6 out-of-the-box tips from Malcolm Gladwell that can improve your career

Malcolm Gladwell has been influencing so many kinds of people for four decades since his stint at The New Yorker began in 1996.

He’s released five non-fiction books in the years since then where the subject matters vary substantially different from the next. Gladwell’s work does have a common goal, however, as the tips and advice he dishes out to his readers offer a ton of wisdom that they can take with them in their everyday work life.

Gladwell recently developed a whole new fan base outside of his literary masterpieces with the podcast Revisionist History, where he re-examines something from the past (an event, person, etc) and asks whether we got it right the first time. 

A lot of the tips he delivers fall in line with people who are specifically writers however they work in many other kinds of industries, especially in the vastly different world we are living in today since COVID took over our lives in 2020.

And yes, some of these tips might seem weird, but they work. Here are six he’s spoken about over the years that you can incorporate into your own life. 

The ideas you present don’t always have to be your own

He spoke about this in one of his Masterclasses where he claimed that other people can and should be the best resource for stories and ideas when it relates to your writing.

Again, this can work in many different types of jobs, especially when you are being mentored and want to know the best way in excelling at your job so you can eventually bestow your wisdom on future generations of people in your line of work. 

Don’t play to your opponent’s strengths

In his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell talked about how the underprivileged can act in certain situations with people who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and had it easy most of their lives.

The former will do things that aren’t instinctual and rather unconventional in order to overcome their opponents, which ultimately can be a lot more work than needed. Instead, he stresses that they use their own abilities and avoid situations aligned with their opponent’s strengths in order to either match or ultimately succeed them in the workplace.  

It’s fine to do something that’s been done before

Gladwell, at a 2015 panel discussion, said that the worst advice he ever received was from a knowledgeable friend who shut down an idea he had because it was something that’s been done before.

This type of thinking can be archaic as said topic can be interpreted in so many different ways. It’s like giving 4 chefs the same ingredients. Yes, they are identical but can be transformed to have zero similarities in taste and execution. “There are 100 articles written on the same topic every day,” he said. “The world can happily accept more than one approach.”

Try doing the same thing in many different ways

Another tip from his previous Masterclass was writing specific and suggested that someone pens a story in “different styles” to get better at what they’re doing. Let’s rework this though for numerous types of employees who want to master their craft.

What he’s trying to get across is that you tackle one project in several different ways that showcase your strengths in what you’ve been assigned. This is something that could be beneficial to you as you either build on your resume or have something to gloat about in a new job interview. 

Difference vs. being better

Gladwell once spoke about “difference” versus “better” with the focus being on the former and not the latter. Often we think too much about the word “better” as our careers continue to grow but we don’t grasp just how important it is to be different, or in other words, unique.

Sure, both are great, but you should be able to separate yourself from the pack and find your own individual light with the things that make you… you. 

Embracing your new adventures

Gladwell, in his book Blink, talked about how many of us are fearful to act on snap decisions due to prejudiced thinking patterns that prevent us from reaching our full potential. Let’s say you are sitting on an idea for work but are afraid to speak about it due to you being either too new at a company or worried that it will be shot down immediately for a number of reasons.

This is equivalent to being in a rocking chair: sure, you’re moving around but it’s not getting you anywhere. If you’ve got nothing to lose, go for it. Simple as that.