"These books are playful in the sense that they regard ideas as things to experiment with. I'm happy if somebody reads my books and reaches a conclusion that is different from mine, as long as the ideas in the book cause them to think. You have to be willing to put pressure on theories, to push the envelope. That's the fun part, the exciting part. If you are writing an intellectual adventure story, why play it safe? I'm not out to convert people. I want to inspire and provoke them."
This philosophy approaches influence from a different angle. Perhaps not a full 180 degrees, but at least a good 45. Sounds to me like he's taking the easy way out. I don't have to actually influence anyone, all I have to do is provoke them. While provoking is fun, and sometimes dangerous, I enjoy the finer skill of actual persuasion.
Although, I was glad to see that Gladwell did manage to provoke Marlin Mann. The beauty of striving to provoke instead of influence is that you know longer care what others think. In fact if they disagree with you strongly that's better than if they agree with you mildly.
The other benefit for us who like to persuade, it that the provokers give us good material to help make our case even when we disagree with them.
Here is Gladwell speaking at the TED conference on spaghetti sauce.
I don't know if that talk provokes me, but I do know it makes me hungry.