21 Things About Malcolm Gladwell

“Steve Jobs was never once first to market. He succeeded by improving upon other people’s ideas.” During a keynote speech at the Tableau Customer Conference in San Diego on Wednesday, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the concept of practical innovation — essentially, innovating best instead of first — as it applies to a host of historically victorious underdogs, including such disparate examples as Jobs and the nation of Israel’s startling success in the Bekaa Valley Air Battle of 1982. Gladwell’s fifth book, “David and Goliath,” due in 2013, will explore this notion in detail. After his talk, we sat down for an excellent chat, and he answered some questions.

What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
We didn’t have TV, so naturally I thought that all TV was fabulous.

What qualities do you like in a person?
A capacity for forgiveness.

Name one thing you will regret never having done (if you never do it).
Going to Japan.

What’s the single most important issue in the world today?
That would be a long list to choose from, but I think the most interesting thing right now is probably the spread of freedom.

Do you still buy CDs or rent DVDs?
No. I’ve had a Netflix DVD sitting on my table at home for probably six months.

What would you be doing if you were not in your current job?
Real estate development. I’m fascinated by the way spaces get made — I wouldn’t build office buildings, though.

What is your greatest achievement to date?
Being a good friend and a good son. I hope to be a good father.

iPhone, Android or BlackBerry?
BlackBerry. I can’t give up the keyboard.

If you could meet any historical or fictional person, who would it be?
Marie Curie. She lived in a time when not only did no one think that she had a brain, no one thought her entire gender had a brain. But she accomplished extraordinary things nonetheless, and she won two Nobel prizes.

What site/app do you check first when you wake up?
Marginal Revolution. And Grantland.

What was the last thing you fixed?
I fixed a friend’s writing for publication on the Web. Does editing count as fixing? (Editor’s note: Yes, it does.)

What was your first computer?
When I worked at the Washington Post, they gave everyone a Trash-80 (Radio Shack TRS-80) with a telephone interface for filing stories. It was an amazing computer, for its time.

What was your biggest mistake?
Not going to college somewhere really different, interesting and far away, or taking advantage of more possibilities in general when I was younger.

Do you have a dog or cat or other pet?
No. But I wish I had both!

What’s your favorite mode of transportation?
Bicycling. And running.

What was the last book you read?
Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise.”

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
The ability to transport myself anywhere instantly, like on “Star Trek” — teleportation.

Name your favorite guilty pleasure.
Spy novels. It’s gotten so I have to look for books from the ’50s and ’60s, because I’ve read everything else.

What was your biggest most recent purchase?
A Volkswagen Golf R. They only make 5,000 a year. It’s totally stealth. It looks exactly like a regular Golf, but it has a sports car engine dropped in — the only thing that distinguishes it from the standard model is a tiny “R” on the grille.

Whom do you idolize?
Tyler Cowen, who publishes Marginal Revolution. I am a huge Tyler Cowen fan.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be taller and younger — of course!

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