Plenary Connections: Malcolm Gladwell

December 08, 2014

By William R. Holmes

It is with great pleasure that I write about Malcolm Gladwell who will be our Opening Plenary speaker at the 2015 NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo in Boston. A renowned journalist, author, speaker, and a recipient of the Order of Canada, Mr. Gladwell's five books have each made the New York Times best sellers list.

What intrigues me most about Mr. Gladwell's books is that they seem to speak so clearly to my own experiences, while causing me to reconsider the circumstances surrounding those experiences. While I have never met Mr. Gladwell, I feel a certain affinity with his perspectives. Perhaps it is because we are of a similar age and both grew up in the same region of Southern Ontario in Canada. We also share the fact that both of our fathers were professors at the University of Waterloo.

After my father gave me a copy of Mr. Gladwell's second book, Blink, which I literally read in one sitting, I immediately rushed out to get a copy of The Tipping Point. Since then I have read each of Mr. Gladwell's books as soon as they hit the bookshelves. What makes his writing so compelling is that he develops hypotheses to explain what appears at first to be everyday social and economic occurrences, but in reality are fascinating behavioral phenomena.

Have you ever wondered why we have sudden revelations, or considered what defines the point at which significant societal shifts occur. Or what set of circumstances contribute to the extraordinary levels of accomplishment that some individuals attain in their chosen skill, sport, or other pursuit? Malcolm Gladwell combines qualitative and quantitative research with engaging storytelling in order to convince us of the validity of these hypotheses. In short, he causes us to take an in depth look at what we take for granted and delve deeper into why individuals and societies behave as they do.

Mr. Gladwell's work reflects the experiences of a very wide audience. Whether or not everyone agrees with the conclusions he makes, Mr. Gladwell's greatest achievement is that he causes his readers to stop and think more deeply about their experiences as individuals and as a part of our larger society.

I have seen Mr. Gladwell speak on a number of occasions, and each time he challenges his audiences to examine their own assumptions and to question the world that they often take for granted. I would like to thank NAFSA for giving its community of international educators the opportunity to engage with this truly talented social commentator.


William R. Holmes, DBA, is vice provost at the Sheridan Institute of Technology, and a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors. He holds a doctor of business administration from the University of Southern Queensland, a master of business administration from the University of British Columbia, and master's and bachelor's degrees from the University of Waterloo.


SHARE THIS POST