Like declaring that Steve Jobs was not a classic innovator. When Gladwel l recently used the platform of HCL Technologies’ global customer meet at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando to throw some light on his new book, which will revolve around “outsiders” who take “social risks”, he ruffled many Apple fanboys in the audience.
“He didn’t invent anything,” Gladwell, who has also written about this in his column in ‘New Yorker’, said. He said Jobs’ sensibility was more editorial and big as Jobs’ ego was. “He never let it interfere with his choice. “He’s so good, we think he’s a visionary… He’s a very good manager,” Gladwell said even as he put Amazon founder Jeff Bezos among innovators.
In a dark business suit and with his distinctive mop of frizzy hair, Gladwell made a compelling argument to a rapt audience that innovation comes to those who don’t belong. His new book, which is set for launch in 2013, will also deal with unexplored dangers to elite education, where costs outweigh the benefits and the best and brightest worship at the same altar.
In all the instances he cited, innovation came from people who are on the fringes and that enabled them to make this difference. Gladwel l’s theory seems simple, the way he explains it. While most people dwell on the genius of innovators, the real risk they take is social, he said.
“Innovators need more than idea; they need a thick skin,” he said, illustrating the point with anecdotes spanning breakthrough in cancer treatment, the sub-prime crisis and the making of furniture retailer IKEA. “Being an outsider gives you the motivation. I see this time and again in periods of innovation,” Gladwell said.
In the 1950s, when child leukemia was one of the most terrifying diseases with almost 100% mortality, Emil Freireich, a young doctor, used a military analogy to treat I, where one drug alone was insufficient, he used a combination of drugs. The breakthrough Freireich achieved is one of the famous papers in the history of oncology.
But back then, Gladwell said, Freireich was seen as a Nazi doctor, as insane. His own employees heckled him behind his back and Freireich was roundly criticised and ostracised. Freireich, who was at the National Cancer Institute, took a cue from the three-drug regimen that cured the deadly tuberculosis disease.
Gladwell, who works as a full-time writer for the New Yorker, said this 10-year window was the most productive in the history of cancer research. Gladwell said the people who shorted sub-prime during the boom times also took a social risk, as others rode the boom getting richer. “Those who shorted sub-prime were outside Wall Street with no social status to lose,” he said.
Similarly, the founder of IKEA set up a factory in Poland at the height of the Cold War, around the time the Berlin Wall came up in 1961. “It is like someone going to North Korea now,” said Gladwell, “It was an extraordinary act of audacity.”
What compelled Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder, to go from West to East, from Sweden to Poland was because manufacturers in his country were boycotting him. His company was on the verge of bankruptcy, ‘about to come to a rumbling halt’.