Malcolm Gladwell on Venture Capital (and Fleetwood Mac)

Writer and author Malcolm (“Tipping Point”) Gladwell recently gave a 40-minute talk at the University of Toronto’s business school. It is worth watching, especially for the typically Gladwell-ian way he weaves Fleetwood Mac factoids into broader musings about innovation and venture capital.

Mind you, I don’t entirely agree with Gladwell’s comments on venture capital. He confuses VC rhetoric with VC practise, and venture investors are not nearly as quick to kill companies as they say they are — but shhh, don’t tell anyone that. And I’m also not nearly as convinced as he is that the “old masters and young geniuses” argument holds uniformly across creative endeavours.

Just for fun, I pulled together some data to semi-empirically test one of Gladwell’s arguments. Specifically, he posited that top-selling recording artists either hit it big in their first few albums, or build to a big album well into their career. It isn’t true, at least not for the artists behind the ten top-selling albums of all time.

Bottom line, however: Even Gladwell’s errant arguments are more fun than most people’s true and boring ones, so the video is worth watching in its entirely.


  1. Chris Anderson says:

    I don’t get the chart at all. The table makes pefect sense, but there seems to be something awry in your axis labeling on the chart. Should that be “1-3”, “4-6” and so on?. Also, you don’t want fractional numbers on the Y axis.

  2. Sigh, you’re right. Was in a hurry last night and knew what I meant when I slapped the chart together. It’s cleaned-up now ….

  3. George Collins says:

    Rumors was not Fleetwood Mac’s second album, it was like their 5th. It was the second album of the band after Stevie Nicks and ..(her Guitarist boyfriend) joined. The band was fromed by Mick Fleetwood in the ’60s, and starte out doing blues.
    OK, I’m embarrassed to admit I know that.

  4. Actually, it was Fleetwood Mac’s 16th album, which was part of Gladwell’s original point. My rejoinder — and my reason for counting of it as the second — was that the band changed so completely in 1974-1975 that it was really not correct to call it a continuous discography.