New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell drew huge crowds Monday morning, filling up two large auditoriums at the Palais for his keynote address, sponsored by Kraft Foods. Weaving together a comparison of military innovations in the Soviet Union, the United States, and Israel with the story of Steve Jobs' famous visit to Xerox Park—and a fierce, evangelical confidence in the validity of his ideas—Gladwell attempted to convince the audience that it was not innovators but “tweakers and implementers” who turn great ideas into successful businesses.
Steve Jobs had become successful not by being early but by being late, by adapting the ideas of others to benefit consumers, Gladwell said. Think of Google, which did not invent search. Or Facebook, which did not invent the social network. His conclusion: We should put less emphasis on innovation, more emphasis on tweaking and implementation. “We need to be Israel,” he said, returning to the initial idea that Israel had made the greatest use of Russian and American revolutions in military affairs.
As was to be expected, Gladwell’s talk was met with awe and appreciation in some quarters, criticism in others. “That Malcolm Gladwell is a hell of an implementer,” Zach Rodgers, managing editor of marketing news website ClickZ, wrote on Twitter during the address. “He’s his own best case study, a master at being 1st by being 3rd.”