Skip to content
Personal Growth

What Do All Innovators Have in Common?

From his many interviews with “minor geniuses,” Malcolm Gladwell distills a couple characteristics shared by all successful innovators. 

In his 15 years as a staff writer for the New Yorker, bestselling-author Malcolm Gladwell has profiled a host of what he calls “minor geniuses”—innovators or pioneers usually from a niche field or discipline. In talking with dozens of these trailblazers, Gladwell tells Big Think that he noticed attributes that they all shared. Above all, “they’re all obsessive characters,” says Gladwell. “What you find when you look at real innovators is a monomanical fixation on very specific questions or issues.” These innovators are also able to act as the bridge between these very specific fields and the mainstream. “They’re people who bridge the gap between private and public worlds,” he says. “They take something that had been a feature of a closed, marginalized community and they make it accessible to everyone else.”

During his Big Think interview Gladwell discusses a handful of these innovators, including hair care pioneer Shirley Polykoff and kitchen gadget inventor extraordinaire Ron Popeil, dissecting what particular insight or skill led to their success. Below Gladwell discusses philosopher and Wall Street oracle Nassim Taleb, whose unique background allowed him to win big as the global economy tanked during the Great Recession:


Up Next