Today, superstar thinker Malcolm Gladwell launches his new book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know. The book explores how our understanding of people is shaped by our own cultures and expectations, which often cause us to misunderstand the potential of what we can learn from that person.
I had a chance to interview Malcolm Gladwell as he prepared to keynote our Trend Hunter Future Festival. We covered a number of topics related to innovation and inspiration, but we also covered the new book, part way through the interview.
When chatting with him, he explained, "It's pretty clear to me that we have a set of rules, of ideas, about the way someone else's mind operates and those ideas are not present at birth. They are acquired, culturally acquired, and sometimes those ideas are wrong. The reason you study ideas is to figure out which ones are useful and which ones are lousy, because they matter."
There's also a filter that slows us down from being open minded, which is that we are taught from children that strangers are some sort of threat. So we tend to enter into new situations without fully thinking about opportunity. We approach new situations with a sense of skepticism.
He related this concept to how much you can learn, "If you understand statistics, you think about economics or health or any number of things in a profoundly different way than if you don't. Once you're exposed to a set of concepts, you use them in ways you may even not be aware of and they shape the way you understand the world. I don't think of the study of ideas as trivial. I think of it as ideas are the software we use to kind of navigate everyday experience. Nothing could be more important than that."
If you are looking to expand your thinking, or to learn WHY the stranger has so much to teach you, check out the new book. As of this morning, it has already rocketed to #2 on Amazon's nonfiction list, and I'd expect it to hit #1 once the buzz catches up. Here's the link.