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Ted Simpson

Glad you are posting to your blog! -- I get it on RSS. I'll go read your article.


So, finding yourself a benefactor of a "lighting strike" isn't just a random event. But, how I do go about positioning myself within the storm?

Ms. Jen


Thank you very much for this article and breaking down the research on creativity. My favorite art professor in college asserted that while everyone loved the prodigies the really good art didn't start until after 45. He said this from years of making art and watching others do so, so thanks for breaking it down.

Bless you.

Sean Perkins


Hope I didn't put you off when inquiring about your blog at the New Yorker Festival. I really do hope you share more stories like the Atticus Finch anecdote. All of your stories and research is well-received by people like me, so please do keep sharing. I'll help if you need it!
Sean Perkins



I dearly enjoyed the article, which was both a soothing balm to the nagging voice in my head that 26 was too young to give yourself to the corporate world. This inspires me to set aside time, practice what I love, and see if the fruits of decades of labor will bear something significant. Thank you.



I'm an admirer, so please don't take this comment the wrong way. This is in regard to your current essay on Ben Fountain and genius, etc.

I read Fountain's collection as it was published, and enjoyed it. One or two stories, indeed, flirt with genius. The bulk of the collection, however, is mediocre. I'm wondering why you chose Fountain over, say, Lorrie Moore or James Salter, Rick Bass or Richard Ford. A very artful essay, but it's missing an honest discussion of methodology.

Also, and unreleated: An interesting point for future cocktail conversations. The sales figures for Fountain's book are dismal indeed. Nielsen Bookscan has the total numbers, hardcover and paperback, at just under 11,000 copies. Is this a reflection on Fountain's "genius" or on the obstinate inability of American culture to recognize talent? Perhaps both...

Malcolm Gladwell

You are quite right that I could have chosen any numnber of writers: there are no shortage of late-bloomers out there. I just really loved Fountain's work. I'm afraid I don't agree that the bulk of the collection is mediocre: I found every story riveting.


You rock.
Just saying.

Senia Maymin

Fabulous essay on two types of creativity. Really like that you go into depth about both. Interesting conclusion about finances and the late-bloomer.


Thank you for comming back to your blog writing. I have enlisted your blog on mine just to know when smth new is online.

And very interesting subject. Keep up on this. I might come back with some questions later next week after I am going to run a small event on innovation.


Great to see you tearing down the story as if genius is only for the young.

It's a bit disappointing to have it replaced by another story. I don't quite buy that a young genius equals a conceptual one, and an older an experimental one.

But a very nice article to question the "common wisdom"!
Thank you.

Maynard Handley

Hi Malcolm,

Has the New Yorker made a deliberate decision to no longer allow articles to be printed? The Print link that used to generate a version of the page nicely laid out with a wider column and no crud on the sides no longer appears to work. I tried in multiple browsers to make sure it wasn't just some HTML weirdness.

Even if one is reading online, it is vastly more pleasant to read in that format than in this stupid "decorated" format that requires you to keep hitting the "next page" link.



Gladwell, welcome to china!

Amy MacKinnon

Your article on late bloomers made me weep. Certainly when Ben Fountain acknowledged the support of his wife, but more so when you acknowledged, "[Late bloomers]require forbearance and blind faith."

Perhaps I'll hang a portrait of Cezanne above my desk to push me through the dark days.

Charles Yu

Mr. Gladwell,

Another great article. A couple of questions that it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on:

1) Do you think the bloomer/prodigy framework is limited in its applicability to certain fields? I'm thinking it works best for painters and poets, maybe fiction writers, maybe sculptors, violinists, other solo or symphonic musicians, possibly jazz musicians? In other words, disciplines where the work product or performance is created, for the most part, by solitary individuals and such product or performance can be judged on a stand-alone basis. Poetry and painting both seem to be endeavors where the "talent/mastery arc" has at least some relationship with the "career arc", at least as measured by rough proxies like anthologization or auction price. But what about fields where there are more confounding variables, like acting, or even directing, where the work product is not the result of one creative person in isolation, but dozens or even hundreds of people? Is it even possible to isolate and identify the arc of an actor or director when so many other factors, many of which are completely out of the individual artist's control, contribute to the critical assessment of that artist?

2) Do you think, beyond bloomers and prodigies, there may be a third type? A conceptualist who turns into an experimentalist? I'm thinking of some of today's most gifted young fiction writers, like Foer or Zadie Smith. A more typical path seems to be something like this: an unbelievable first book, followed by a second one that is critically and commercially less successful (possibly also the back-end of a two-book deal and thus produced under pressure and time constraints not present during the creation of the first book), and then in the third book and beyond, the beginning of a gradual return to the stratospheric arc that first seemed possible.

For novelists, especially, it seems like many of them start out as conceptual artists who, having spent the rocket fuel of their first twenty-five years of life experience, then enter into a slower phase of outer space exploration. Deeper, but slower, with discoveries coming incrementally but being no less impressive. Or, put another way, for novelists especially, does it make sense to think about the work, and not the person? Don't a lot of novelists start out producing early "conceptual" work, and then move into a phase of more mature "experimental" work? I think Foer himself even mentioned something about this in his recent interview with NYU/Slate.

Sorry for the overly long post.

Laurie McGavin Bachmann

Dear Malcolm,

Your Late Bloomer article in this week's New Yorker brought tears to my eyes--for the trial and error struggles of late bloomers and the deep faith of their friend and family member patrons.

Thank you,

Laurie A. McGavin Bachmann

Maxwell Paterson

Mr Gladwell

Thank you for an interesting article.

What do you make of all this as it relates to math and the sciences? Perhaps these fields do not require creativity or produce achievement in the sense you mean it here? (A proposition one might (re-)consider.)

To use two obvious (Galenson-esque) measures of genius: The Fields Medal demands precocity. The Nobel Prize(s) awarded in the sciences, too, seem to reward precocity, using time passed only as the means to test the impact (validity?) of precocity. (Interestingly, in the arts, the Nobel Prize seems to await artistic maturity and uses time passed to assess the impact of artistic achievement, thus allowing for both kinds of genius you describe.)

Thank you for your consideration.


Rachel Cline

Hi, Malcolm,

I was rocking along, mightily enjoying your Late Bloomers essay, until somewhere around word 750, when I realized you'd failed to mention that J.S. Foer's "wife," is Nicole Krauss.

I read on, vainly hoping to find a woman's name mentioned in any role other than wife. As you acknowledge in an earlier comment, there is no shortage of artists about whom you could have written to make your case and you're much too smart a guy to have failed to see the implication of going All Man. So, how did this happen? How did it get by the famously indefatigable NYer copy desk? I'm really appalled.

Allan Bacon

Malcolm - My work focuses on how mid-life career change happens and the most effective ways to find one's passion. One topic I talk about is the difference between people like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, who had a clear sense of passion early in life and focused on it and people like many of the rest of us, who often get far along in our careers before we question what we should be doing with our lives.

I have found that one of the most effective ways for people at mid-life to tap into their intuition about their purpose is through experimenting with interests they've had but not followed up on.

I wonder if the topic of late bloomers vs. early genius has broader application?

Thanks for your insights,

Allan Bacon


Malcolm, this seems a natural continuation of your work in Blink. In Blink, you conclude that one's intuition develops to "blink" to action with good outcomes or bad outcomes. With your late-bloomers article, you've begun to profile people who have nurtured their intuitions to naturally perform action with good outcomes.

In the article, you sort of surrender to the helplessness of the individual to knowingly act on a path to lead his or her to this wisdom. Jung delineated people between those who consciously favor their intuition and those who favor their reasoning. The early achievers seem to fit in with the former, and the late-bloomers fit in with the latter.

Going by my own casual observations:

The implication of the 80/20% rule is that the outcome of the best option of a suite of options is going to be 4 or 5 times better than the next best option. But the best option isn't inherently apparent to rational review, otherwise we could think our way to being geniuses, and pass it along in education.

The intuitive-achiever is going to bump and bang through early life. If he survive this, he hones his intuition to pick out those options with those best outcomes.

The rational-achiever achieves in spite of consciously favoring reasoning. The mystery for the rational where it isn't for the intuitive (the irrational) is why the outcome of an action doesn't match intent. The irrational doesn't let thinking get in the way of their fidelity to reality. So the rational will persist longer in action with an intended outcome, and make incremental adjustments to it to reach the desired outcome, as you described in your article. The advantage to the late-bloomer however, is that thinking through the process helps him systematize his practice, helping him to keep his life more stable, and helping him to pass along his wisdom with more than "I don't know how I do it, I just do it."

That's how it seems to me, anyway.


Hi, Malcolm.

You spoke to my NYU class about voting manipulations, and the role of the media in American democracy. I'm curious about your take on the media stories that have been coming out in the last day or so, that seem to be presenting McCain and Obama in a different light (e.g., McCain's campaign doesn't tolerate anti-Muslim epithets, Obama has a "secret, behind the scenes" buddy).

I hope I'm just being paranoid...

Johanna Tabin

As a psychologist, I was sorry to have missed your Boston appearance. I've been your fan ever since The Tipping Point. As to the current article, I missed your mentioning Titian, Leonardo, and Verdi for great work in their late seventies and on (Titian at 90). All three had early recognition, too, however. And some early bloomers (Raphael, Keats, etc.) died too young for good science about them. Your explorations about personality and its development through life might be a worthy followup. In any case, the conclusion you reach about the need for steady nurturance of the talented is a great point you could document many times over (Bach, John Kennedy Toole--to be more up to date--etc.)

Johanna Tabin

Andrew McMechan

A wonderful article, and hope for all of us potential late bloomers. I prefer to tell people, however, that I am a middle-aged prodigy, as opposed to late-bloomer.

Your examples are well-considered, but I wonder what you make of two other examples. In the prodigy column, there's Beethoven. Like Picasso, he arrived in Vienna an annointed prodigy. He was creating masterpieces right off the bat. But, unlike Picasso, he didn't peak and then decline; after a bit of a slump, he had his late period, evidenced not just by the 9th symphony, but the glorious final quartets. These are works that were - for the most part - impenetrable to the contemporary listener. YEt, with the passage of time, we now can hear just how much beauty and inspiration reside in them. Beethoven prepared for them by returning to the study of Handel and Bach, specifically the intellectual rigours of the fugue form and strict counterpoint, which he adapted to his own purposes.

In the late-bloomer column, I wonder if you would put Matisse there? He certainly showed early promise, and had notoriety with the Fauve movement. But he was the anti-Picasso: diligent rather than showy; considered rathen than impulsive. And he - like Beethoven - had a second, late style that was in some ways the true expression of his genius.

If you have a moment from your usually busy schedule, I wonder if you could share thoughts?

Terry Gorka

October 19, 2008

Dear Malcolm,

This morning things were relaxed around the house but I was getting wound up inside because I wasn’t finding anything interesting to read. Even the trusty “New Yorker” wasn’t doing it until I read the first two paragraphs of “Late Bloomers” … thank you! This was a perfect moment in time for me because in my own little world I am going through the late-budding process. There is no public recognition to share with you but already my self-expressive, from-the-heart music venture has introduced me to some great new friends and peer encouragement where, at least, the idea of living my dream at 56 years of age isn’t completely delusional.

Your examples of Ben Fountain and Paul Cezanne both ring true with my own experiences. In my own case, I’m still working an 8 to 5 job, Monday to Friday. My wife is completely supportive of what I’m doing but we just can’t afford to live on a single income in our household. If I get a break and one day it makes financial sense I’ll definitely make the jump to music full time and my honey is right behind me on that. But, because I have to work, I spend my days thinking through the compositions – melodies, lyrics, chord constructions and arrangements – and have very little practice time with phrasing, chord progressions, etc. I have enough experience with music to know what I’m going to play and sing before I try out an idea. I’ve solicited some great laughs in the recording studio with the owner who is also engineering and co-producing when he asked me how the new song goes and I tell him I don’t know because I’ve never played it.

My process is a little different than Fountain and Cezanne in the first instance because the ideas really seem to happen with a great rush of energy and speed for one of - or a combination of - several factors:
1. Having the studio booked and needing something new to work on
2. Contemplating some song topic (lyrically) or genre (melodically) for awhile

I’ve learned not to panic or worry about the creative inspiration … it hasn’t let me down yet. And the whole process is now becoming a more common part of my life.

Once the inspiration happens, I become the late bloomer you describe so well … a processor – working through the craft of songwriting (melodically and lyrically), arrangement, recording production and performance. In my youth I played in a number of bands, 3-piece, duos and solo but there was hardly ever an original song. The bands I was in never even talked about it. But now it’s all about new creations and expressions … new to me at least.

During the creative process, I find no motivation in recognition, viability, hipness, the future or any of that … I just want to keep working on the ideas, spitting them out and moving on. After the works are recorded and, particularly with the compositions that bring good results to my ears – I use my imagination when I lay in bed at night (and when I’m not writing a new song during this time) to see myself being accepted by the music biz people I’ve met. It’s laughable but true … and a little pathetic but harmless to anyone except my wife who must really wonder about me at times. I can say that lightly because we’re just fine and open about what’s going on.

This is probably too much about me and my thing. It is meant to be a ‘thank you’ note from someone who is living this experience. It is so interesting because it is also changing my personality … I was telling a friend at dinner tonight that if I think about dinner conversation with friends a year ago I remember dreading someone asking me how things were going personally. “Uh, I’m fine. Working hard, keeping busy.” Blah, blah, blah. Now, it’s more like, “Do you really wanna know?” And then off I go on the songs, their meaning, how the creative process works for me or whatever else comes up.

I don’t feel selfish or self-centered about it … I’m also more interested than ever in what other people are really into. I really push to find out their passion. Everybody’s got it even if it’s buried like it was for me.

I’m so tempted to lay out the whole backstory of how this came to pass with me but you’ve been patient enough if you’ve read through this. And, hey, if it’s meant to be and there is some public success, you’ll be the first to know, fair enough?

All the best,

Terry Gorka
Ventura, CA

K. Smith

I am so glad to see a new article from you as it gives me something fresh to ponder. I am certainly impressed with prodigies but will always cheer the loudest for late bloomers. Thanks for your inspiration on this subject.

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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