Maureen Tkacik gets a little gruff with Malcolm Gladwell over his cliches, but I'm not telling how she ends her own essay. You can read Gladwell for Dummies for yourself.
She reviews his work and posits that he is not the Francisco Redihe thinks he is. In other words, he is a person who glosses over truth, and speaks pretty for industry titans. He's not the guy who has found a new way to deduce what is happening in reality.
Here's her take:
Stars! They're just like us. Which is to say, every time Gladwell begins to close in on a conclusion of real meaning or intellectual impact, he clicks his heels and returns to the mental Melrose Place of quippy clichés. What's more, he apparently has no problem espousing the whole-truthness of two antithetical clichés--the innateness of genius and "The Power of Context" (as Gladwell had christened this truism in The Tipping Point) at almost simultaneous moments in time. Reduced further, depending on Gladwell's narrative needs, genius is either nature or nurture, and he has cheerily eaten his cake, wrapped it up neatly in a take-away box and left us wondering where the crumbs disappeared to.
It may seem obvious to some that these are false dichotomies; neither half is ever true to the exclusion of the other. But that is the rub: there are a great many book buyers determined to hedge their bets in precisely this Gladwellian mode. Depending on the situation, they want to believe in the sovereign power of either nature or nurture--to convince themselves that anyone can be a success but also that should one be so unfortunate as to fail, that failure was predestined by an accident of fate. This is the contradictory "story of success" that runs through Gladwell's articles, The Tipping Point and Outliers. The "power of apparent inevitability," as The Economist termed it, is a narrative that his hungriest readers can use to explain any turn their lives might take, and it was precisely these readers who flooded Gladwell's e-mail inbox with raves about how The Tipping Point had empowered them to take control of their lives and "contexts."
By the time Gladwell produced a sequel to The Tipping Point, Blink, his preference for light vignettes featuring plucky heroes over grimmer fare was proving its own insult. In Blink's afterword, he describes the book as "a journey into the wonders of our unconscious" but one that should not "be confused with the unconscious described by Sigmund Freud, which was a dark and murky place filled with desires and memories and fantasies that were too disturbing for us to think about consciously." Instead, Blink plumbs an unconscious realm that is surprisingly hospitable. Gladwell makes the case that because human existence is entirely too rich and nuanced to be reducible to data or logic (and by extension, to arguments or allegations), reason and reflex blend over time to yield snap decisions that are often better than the best-laid plans.
Oh, but it gets better.
In that case, perhaps Gladwell's intellectual compromises are neither commercial nor unintentional but rather a necessary outgrowth of his higher calling: to explore the secret workings of the world and impart the resulting data to its self-appointed stewards, the titans of industry. This conclusion, if true, may resolve many of the most puzzling incongruities riddling Gladwell's articles: his continued defense of the pharmaceutical industry even as he advocates for single-payer healthcare; his refusal to indict the financial sector's rigged "star system" as the engine of corruption that it is; the meticulous bleaching of his own prose so that he's whitewashed out any real context, any framework in which wars and economic collapses can actually be understood as wars and economic collapses rather than simulations or malfunctions; his near total avoidance of academic thought that does not base its findings on things observed in labs (with the exception of Carl Jung, whose legacy he reduces to the popularization of personality tests); his coyness about politics; and most memorably, his irritating, unrelenting readability.