Topic: Leadership


Malcolm Gladwell

season 2, episode 1

This episode, we talk with Malcolm Gladwell about why the human tendency towards trust might be the lynchpin of modern society, and Andrew wonders what it must be like to meet himself as a stranger.

Malcolm Gladwell is, well, Malcolm Gladwell. He’s been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and is the author of five New York Times bestsellers which have changed the way we think about how ideas spread, decision making, success, and adversity.

His latest book is Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know and as usual, it’s a perfect combination of riveting storytelling and subversion of our expectations about the way the world works.

He also has a podcast, Revisionist History, now in its third season, which artfully re-examines overlooked and misunderstood events from the past.

Malcolm was interviewed by me, and I have to say, despite his imposing presence in the publishing and podcasting worlds, he’s wonderfully down to earth and a joy to talk to. Despite being in the middle of a whirlwind press tour, he was willing to step out of his wheelhouse and into the world of workplace culture—which, not surprisingly, he had lots of insightful thoughts about.

Host: Andrew Scarcella
Guest: Malcolm Gladwell
Date published: January 6, 2020

Topics covered:
Defaulting to truth
Cost of suspicion
Trust in the workplace
Creating a trusting environment

“If you get an answer that surprises, you've probably asked a good question.”
— Malcolm Gladwell
  • Bias in hiring
    Autonomy in the workplace

“I'm increasingly of the opinion that meeting someone is probably overrated as a source of information about their hire-worthiness.
Malcolm Gladwell

  • What makes a great question
  • Malcolm’s ideal workplace culture
  • Malcolm’s heroes
“The work needs to be good, and if it’s not good there are consequences. But how you achieve that standard is up to you. That’s my idea of an ideal workplace.”
— Malcolm Gladwell

Twitter: @gladwell
Instagram: @MalcolmGladwell

Tangible Takeaways:

1. The first is that we all default to truth, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Trusting people, even total strangers, isn’t a weakness. In fact, it just might be humanity’s greatest strength. When we “default to truth” (a phrase coined by the psychologist Tim Levine), we not only make communication more efficient, we make it possible to engage in productive relationships, build successful teams and organizations, and collaborate with our fellow humans. Yes, there is a chance that you might occasionally be deceived, but you can’t let that stop you. In Malcolm’s words, “It’s a very small price to pay for the extraordinary benefits that come from trust.”

2. The second is that overcoming bias in the hiring process should be at the top of every HR department’s 2020 goals. Our gut feelings and first impressions about a candidate can easily influence our decision about hiring them. We all need to be more vigilant about getting rid of information that’s unnecessary. Bias feeds on irrelevant things like name, gender, alma mater, etc.—so we have an obligation (and an incentive, given the positive implications of bias-free hiring) to discard these complicating factors and focus on the skills and attributes our ideal candidates will have, and measure applicants against them without judgement.

3. The third is that it’s helpful to remember that a lot of the time WE are the strangers. And try as we might, we just aren’t very good at accurately communicating what we mean with people who don’t know us. Our jokes might not land the way we want them to. Our casual, devil-may-care attitude might be misinterpreted as, “dickish.” Our carefully rehearsed apologies might not seem as sincere as we think. And guys—please, please try to understand that most of your compliments aren’t “making their day”, they’re making their day worse. So back off, see your impact, not just your intentions, and give strangers a break. They’re just as bad at understanding you as you are at understanding them.

That’s it for this episode of The Work Place. If you liked it, or even if you didn’t, please rate, review, and, of course, subscribe to The Work Place on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was written and produced by yours truly, with editing and original music by Daniel Foster Smith, who also composed our theme song.

If you have a burning question about workplace culture, or a story about why YOUR workplace culture is the best (or worst) send it to

The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more. If you want your organization to become a place where people can’t wait to come to work in the morning, go to

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