Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers Have Practical Intelligence

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Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers Have Practical Intelligence

Malcolm Gladwell has written some incredibly influential titles in the past decade: Tipping Point, followed by Blink.  I love how he backs up his prose with solid research (my INTJ personality coming out).

2 weeks ago, I was in Little Rock meeting with sustainable business professor, Nancy Landrum.  She was brilliant and we shared similar stories of how our childhoods led us to be environmentalists.   After, I was heading to Jonesboro to visit with Steven Green from the ASU research farm and had a 3 hour drive ahead of me.

I picked up a book-on-CD, as I usually do, not trusting myself to find a local station to my liking.  It was Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.

Fascinating stuff.

I was happy to learn that success did, in fact, involve some luck.  And I’ve always felt fairly strongly that I could create my own luck.

I was pleased to hear that the magic number for hours practiced to master your craft is 10,000.  I added up the years I’ve been a nerd on sustainability topics – the jobs, volunteering, books (or books-on-CD), documentaries, workshops, and scribbling ideas in my notebook – and I felt pretty confident I am well on my way.

Then, I heard this clear distinction between analytical knowledge and practical knowledge.  Something really clicked.


If the Audio plug-in doesn’t work for your browser, I apologize.  You can also play the short MP3 (2 minutes) by clicking Gladwell_Outliers.

Practical intelligence includes things like knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect… It’s knowledge that helps you read situations correctly, and get what you want.

Well, what I want is to make a difference.  What that looks like is me being a contribution to my family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors in a way that has them doing more for the environment – and being excited about it.

What resonated with me – listening to the book in the car on my way down Highway 67 in Arkansas – was that the presence of general/analytical intelligence does not imply the existence of practical intelligence, and vice versa.

I can remember just a few years ago.  Full of facts, figures, and irrefutable logical arguments, my communication style had little or no major influence on people.  Looking back, it probably strengthened existing stereotypes about environmentalists.

Deep down, I knew that I did not want to just preach to the choir.  I wanted to “save the planet,” and that would require changing people’s minds.  It would require reaching non-environmentalists with a message they would listen to.

And that has made all the difference.

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Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

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