Interesting Statements from “Malcom Gladwell – What the Dog Saw”

  • Curiosity about the interior life of other people’s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses.
  • It is a mistake to separate product development from marketing because the two are indistinguishable: the object that will sell the best is hte one that can sell itself. 
  • There are 5 known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. 
  • Performance ought to improve with experience, and that pressure is an obstacle that the diligent can overcome. 
  • Stereotype Threat:  When students are put into a situation where they are directly confronted with a stereotype about their group the resulting pressure causes their performance to suffer.  Stereotype threat at work in any situation where groups are depicted in negative ways.  Only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of stereotype threat. 
  • In the technology age, there is a ritual to disaster.  When planes crash or chemical plants explode, each piece of physical evidence – of twisted metal or fractured concrete – becomes a kind of fetish object, painstakingly located, mapped, tagged, and analyzed, with findings submitted to boards of inquiry that then probe and interview and somberly draw conclusions.  It is a ritual of reassurance, based on the principle that what we learn from one accident can help us prevent another. 
  • A Normal Accident – it is the kind of accident one can expect in the normal functioning of a technologically complex operation.  Modern systems are made up of thousands of parts, all of which interrelate in ways that are impossible to anticipate.  Given that complexity, it is almost inevitable that some combinations of minor failures will eventually amount to something catastrophic. 
  • If you make a great number of predictions, the ones that were wrong will soon be forgotten, and the ones that turn out to be true will make you famous. 
  • Flawed managers fall into 3 types.  One is the High Likability Floater, who rises effortlessly in an organization because he never takes any difficult decisions or makes any enemies.  Another is hte Homme de Ressentiment, who seethes below the surface and plots against his enemies.  The most interesting of the 3 is the Narcissist, whose energy and self-confidence and charm lead him inexorably up the corporate ladder. 
  • The job interview has become one of the central conventions of the modern economy.  But what, exactly, can ou know about a stranger after sitting down and talking with hime for an hour? 
  • Generalizations involve matching a category of people to a behavior or trait – overweight middle-aged men to heart-attack risks, young men to bad driving.  But, for the process to work, you have to be able both to define and to identify the category you are generalizing about. 

Great Innovations are Disruptive

Most great innovations are disruptive.  And how do you persuade people to disrupt their lives?  Not merely by ingratiation or sincerity, and not by being famous or beautiful.  You have to explain the invention to customers – not once or twice but three or four times, with a different twist each time. You have to show them exactly how it works and why it works, and make them follow your hands as you chop liver with it, and then tell them precisely how it fits into their routine, and finally, sell them on the paradoxical fact that, revolutionary as the gadget is, it’s not all hard to use. 

The Power of Slogan

On the strength of “Because I’m worth it, “L’Oreal Preference began stealing market share from Clairol. In the 1980s, Preference surpassed Nice ‘n Easy as the leading hair-color brand in the country, and in 1997 L’Oreal took the phrase and made it the slogan for the whole company.  An astonishing 71% of American women can now identify that phrase as the L’Oreal signature, which, for a slogan – as opposed to a brand name – is almost without precedent. 

Why Intelligence Failures are Inevitable

Making warning systems more sensitive reduces the risk of surprise, but increases the number of false alarms, which in turn reduces sensitivity.  When the government’s warning light is orange for weeks on end, and nothing happens, we soon begin to doubt every warning that comes our way.  Why was the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor so unresponsive to signs of an impending Japanese attack?  Because, in the week before December 7, 1941, they had checked out seven reports of Japanese submarines in the area – and all 7 were false. 

Today, the FBI gives us color-coded warnings and speaks of increased chatter among terrorist operatives, and the information is infuriating to us because it is so vague.  What does increased chatter mean?  We want a prediction.  We want to believe that the intentions of our enemies are a puzzle that intelligence services can piece together, so that a clear story emerges.  But there rarely is a clear story – at least, not until afterward, when some enterprising journalist or investigative committee decides to write one.

What is Choking

Choking sounds like a vague and all-encompassing term, yet it describes a very specific kind of failure.  Fore example, psychologists often use a primitive video game to test motor skills.  They’ll sit you in front of a computer with a screen that shows 4 boxes in a row, and a keyboard that has 4 corresponding buttons in a row.  One at a time, x’s start to appear in the boxes on the screen, and you are told that every time this happens you are t opush the key corresponding to the box.  According to Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, if you’re told ahead of time about hte pattern in which those x’s will appear, your reaction time in hitting the right key will improve dramatically.  You’ll play the game very carefully for a few rounds, until you’ve learned the sequence, and then you’ll get faster and faster. 

Willingham calls this explicit learning.  But suppose you’re not told that the x’s appear in a regular sequence, and even after playing the game for a while, you’re not aware that there is a pattern.  You’ll still get faster: you’ll learn the sequence unconsciously.  Willingham calls that implicit learning – learning that takes place outside of awareness.  These 2 learning systems are quite separate, based in different parts of the brain.  Willingham says that when you are first taught something – say, how to hit a backhand or an overhead forehand – you think it through in a very deliberate, mechanical manner.  But as you get better, the implicit system takes over: you start to hit a backhand fluidly, without thinking.  The basal ganglia, where implicit learning partially resides, are concerned with force and timing, and when that system kicks in, you begin to develop touch and accuracy, the ability to hit a drop shot or place a serve at a hundred miles per hour.  “This is something that is going to happen gradually,” Willingham says.  “You hit several thousand forehands, after a while you may still be attending to it.  But not very much.  In the end, you don’t really notice what your hand is doing at all.”  Under conditions of stress, however, the explicit system sometimes takes over.  That’s what it means to choke. 

What is Panic

People with lots of experience tend not to panic, because when the stress suppresses their short-term memory they sill hve some residue of experience to draw on.  Panic also causes what psychologists call perceptual narrowing.  In one study, from the early seventies, a group of subjects were asked to perform a visual-acuity task while undergoing what they thought was a sixty-foot dive in a pressure chamber.  At the same time, they were asked to push a button whenever they saw a small light flash on and off in their peripheral vision.  The subjects in the pressure chamber had much higher heart rates than the control group, indicating that they were under stress.  the stress didn’t affect their accuracy at the visual-acuity task, but they were only half as good as teh control group at picking up the peripherial light.  “You tend to focus or obsess on one thing,” Morphew says.  “There’s a famous airplane example, where the landing light went off, and the pilots had no way of knowing if the landing gear was down.  The pilots were so focused on that light that no one noticed the auotpilot had been disengaged, and they crashed the plane.”

Panic vs. Choking

Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking.  Choking is about thinking too much.  Panic is about thinking too little.  Choking is about loss of instinct.  Panic is reversion to instinct.  They may look the same, but they are worlds apart. 

Many Times, Change Does Not Decrease Risk

Under certain circumstances, changes that appear to make a system or an organization safer in fact don’t.  Why?  Because human beings have a seemingly fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another.

Consider, for example, the results of a famous experiment conducted several years ago in Germany.  Part of a fleet of taxicabs in Munich was equipped with antilock brake systems (ABS), a technological innovation that vastly improves braking, particularly on slippery surfaces.  the rest of the fleet was left alone, and the 2 groups – which were otherwise perfectly matched – were placed under careful and secret observation for three years.  You would expect the better to make for safer driving. 

But that is exactly the opposite of what happened.  Giving some drivers ABS made no difference at all in their accident rate; in fact, it turned them into markedly inferior drivers.  They drove faster.  They made sharper turns.  They showed poorer lane discipline.  They braked harder.  They were more likely to tailgate.  They didn’t merge as well, and they were involved in more near misses.  In other words, the ABS systems were not used to reduce accidents; instead, the drivers used the additional element of safety to enable them to drive faster and more recklessly without increasing their risk of getting into an accident.  As economists would say, they consumed the risk reduction, they didn’t save it.

Why are more pedistrians killed crossing the street at marked crosswalks than at unmarked crosswalks?  Because they compensate for the “safe” environment of a marked crossing by being less vigilant about oncoming traffic. 

How to Win – Talent

The very best companies had leaders who were obsessed with the talent issue.  They recruited ceaselessly, finding and hiring as many top performers as possible.  They singled out and segregated their stars, rewarding them disproportionately, and pushing them into ever more senior positions.  “Bet on the natural athletes, the ones with the strongest intrinsic skills.”

IQ vs. Job Performance

The link between IQ and job performance is distinctly underwhelming.  What IQ doesn’t pick up is effectiveness at commonsense sorts of things, especially working with people.  In terms of how we evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself.  If you work with someone else, it’s called cheating.  Once you get out in the real world, everything you do involves working with other people.


About Andre

Experience Business Developer & Alliance Partner Manager with Strong Technical Background Dealing with Complex Solutions
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