9781846142772

A collection of feature articles, written by Gladwell, that were first published in The New Yorker.

I would call this a book that has “stories of insights”. It attempts to bring the reader to discover facts and thoughts behind the person/ situation being written. Very “blog-like” in terms of the perspectives it offers. Very human-viewpoint.

The way Gladwell writes are examples of impactful writing; sustains interest by shifting ground before you get bored. And snappy endings that leave you thinking.

Part 1: obsessives and minor geniuses
Part 2: theories and ways of organizing experiences
Part 3: predictions we make of people

Preface: he shares how he comes up with story ideas (he makes connectiomswith what people tell him, is what I think). Suggests it’s about being convinced that everyone has a story to tell, even the dog (hence partly the title).

What makes people tick; what’s going on in their minds.

Part 1
Ron Popeil, pitchman, salesman, kitchen product inventor/ developer/ salesman extraordinaire. Story of Ron Popeil reminded me of the medicated ointment performers/ salesman that was frequently at the night market. They make you go in awe, then sell you the product. In between, you’ve made the connection between “awe” and product. The affordable price (which was likely marked up high) seemed like a bargain. His story was about risk-taking, understand consumer psychology, and appreciating design.

On ketchup, benzoate vs those made without it, henry .j. Heinz, Howard moscowitz and his findings that there are subjective versions of the perfect food/ drink (which is why subsequently food manufacturers create different versions to cater to different segments, to maximize total returns; one-taste don’t fit all).15-point scale for rating fruits.

Options trading, story of two options futures traders, each with opposing strategies. One bets on the large probability of small gains and low probability of immense losses; the other on the large possibility of small losses and low probability of immense losses. Interesting story of why they might have chosen those strategies. The former has always achieved what he wants to do and losses are low probabilities for him. The latter had experienced black swan moments (loss of his country and stricken with throat cancer as a non-smoker). The former loss badly during the ’97 crash and sept ’11, where unexpected events happened. Also a slight moralistic twist: live well but prepare for the worse.

Shirley Polykoff, 1956. Ilon Specht, 1973. On Hair-colouring, shift from unacceptable practice to respectable, L’O’real, slogan, Tinker Group, motivational research (why do people buy what they do).

John Rock, catholic, inventor of the Birth Control Pill (1960), in-vitro fertilization, freezing of sperm cells. Leading to the Pope and the catholic church outlawing oral and any artificial contraceptives in 1968. Strassmann’s research on the Dogon women in Mali; suggests the “natural” menstrual cycle is much fewer than modern times. Breast cancer research.

Cesar Millan, his own Nat Geo show, Dog Whisperer. His background, no formal training. Gladwell aptly states that Millan has Presence. Cites anthropologist Brian Hare; “The other end of the leash” by Patricia McConnell. Decoding Millan’s body movements; Phrasing; describes him as “dancing”. How dogs get signals from humans’ body movements and gestures. Movement analysis. Origin story of Millian; crossed into US illegally. While undergoing marriage counseling, he realised the way to treat dogs was also to be able to understand the psychology of people.

Part 2
Enron. Mystery Vs Puzzle (the former requires less info; the latter has missing info). Solving puzzles require drive and persistence; mysteries require experience and insights (not necessarily more info). 1943 debunking Nazi propaganda; intelligence & counter-intelligence; Screwball Division. Enron’s case highlighted the fact that greater disclosure of information, without the people to understand and make sense of it, was inadequate. Concludes with an implied suggestion Enron CEO may not have deserved the harsh jail term; suggests Enron may have stretched its accounting practices but it provided the necessary financial disclosure, just that few bothered to analyze it deep enough; students were able to draw a conclusion about the company’s lack of profitability from available data released by the company.

Homelessness; power law distribution rather than a normal distribution curve. Controversial program of ending homelessness (rather than managing) by taking the worse cases and giving them a rented apartment, subject to some rules. Controversial because it seems to go out of the way to help those who don’t see to want to help themselves (justified by overall lower costs) while those who try harder, e.g. Mothers on welfare, are not necessarily given the same leeway or perks (as they are not chronic cases).

Our reliance and faith on pictures and images for information. How mammograms is still an imprecise way to screen for breast cancer because Xray images still don,t give precise info & doctors still need to make inferences. Concludes with a short snippet (snipe?) at claims, using satellite images alone, by US department of defense that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

On copyright and IP. Dorothy Lewis (author of Guilty by Reason of Insanity) and her plagiarism lawsuit against Byrony Lavery. Copyright briefly explained (sharp too; copyright infringement is not just whether a work was copied but how much and which part). Lawrence Lessig (but did not cite creative commons; Gladwell wrote his piece in 2004).

On national security intelligence. Makes the point things are always clear upon hindsight. Cites the start of the 7-day war with Israel; how Israel’s intelligence agency didn’t think an attack was eminent in spite of evidence of its neighbours mobilizing their armies; put in context, there were many other false alarms in preceding months/ years with similar evidence. “Creeping Determinism”. Amazing side story of a psychological experiment in 1970s; David L. Rosenhan; sent normal people to check themselves citing they heard voices & 3 keywords hallow, thud, empty and then responding truthfully, they were still warded (over- diagnosed). After he shared his findings and said he would continue to send “fake” test subjects –but never did–the mental hospitals started to identify “sane” ones; under-diagnosed. On claims of sept 11 intelligence failure, Gladwell suggests competing agencies ultimately help make better outcomes than a small/ cohesive unit (groupthink; bay of pigs).

On panicking (reversion to human instinct; not thought) and ‘choking’ (thinking too much).

The space shuttle Challenger disaster. “risk homeostasis” (morale hazard).

Part 3
Late bloomers Vs early successes. Examples of late bloomers (who worked hard to refine their craft), author Ben Fountain, artist Cezanne; their patrons/ supporters.

On the question of assessing the job candidate’s suitability for the job, before they actually start work. On picking a NFL Quarterback, selecting teachers. (Seems to me it’s about the person’s adaptability and ability to read a situation), financial advisers. Points out the US system seem to emphasize more on the careful selection of financial advisers (who manage money) than teachers (who manage children).

On Criminal profiling (to be accurate, more like dispelling the efficacy of criminal profiling); James Brussel. Case of the 1940 – 56 Mad Bomber, George Metesky. Likens the methods established by the FBI to what psychics employ in order to be general and yet sound like specific predictions. Says Brussel cleaned up the facts and left put the predictions he made that were wild goose chases.

McKinsey; talent pool (individual stars) as a factor of a company’s success. Asks the question “what if Enron failed not in spite of its talent-mindset but because of it?” what if smart people are overrated? (I think it depends on how we define smart of talented; qualifications or some other qualities?) Apparently, Enron felt a person’s potential was more valuable than actual results. Those who continued to show “potential” were constantly moved up, in spite of actual results. Gladwell then cites the US Navy in WWII. Seems to suggests talent and (organisational) systems are both required. Gladwell suggests it’s more likely that “organizations make people smart” rather than the other way around. The article seems as much a criticism about McKinsey’s conclusions about talent management as well as Enron’s personnel management policy.

On the interview process, gut-feel, snap judgements, self-fulfilling assessments, structured interviews (industrial psychology; standardised questions foe all candidates; ratings of responses: said to be the best predictor of job fit).

On stereotypes. How do we know the right generalization has been made. Starts with a “hook” about a Pitbulls attack; ban. Then leads you back into a study about how pitbulls were assessed to be more suitable to be around humans; that it’s aggressiveness had to be deliberately trained. Basically concludes that generalizations are inevitably wrong if based on incorrect dimensions/ factors/ causes (e.g. dog and owner’s behaviour & treatment of the dog were stronger links, rather than the breed of hedof per se).

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