Posts tagged “malcolm gladwell”

Increase Your Effectiveness In Meetings by 10%

(This post originally appeared on Core77)

There’s a strong fascination cum infatuation with semi-secret rules that explain why we do what we do. Even In Treatment uses Gladwell (the form’s biggest popularizer) to forward a common misconception about therapy while creating dramatic tension.

In a recent counter-intuitive example, a study indicates that people ordering from a menu that includes healthy and less-healthy options will feel more free to choose the less-healthy option. The theory isn’t totally clear (perhaps a vicarious “I’ve been good” hit comes from the presence of those other items) and its extensibility to other choice behaviors isn’t at all clear.

And in the “no duh” category, another study that looked at radiologists found that “when a digital photograph was attached to a patient’s file, radiologists provided longer, more meticulous reports. And they said they felt more connected to the patients, whom they seldom meet face to face.” Although I wonder if the folks at the passport office, with their surplus of mortifying headshots, would support this study, it really just makes sense and could be applied to all sorts of intermediated interactions, both asynchronous (i.e., mortgage applications) and synchronous (ie., tech support chat). For further study, does an avatar or a stock photo work as well as photograph? Do other biographical details work as well? And how long does this effect last?

If you’re into anecdotes and theories that can help you explain, predict, and otherwise impress those around you, check out Lone Gunman, Overcoming Bias and Freakonomics .

Meanwhile, we’re ready to casually cite the classic marketing/business/social science examples, such as the Add An Egg phenomenon, the Kitty Genovese effect, how a waiter’s tip can decline precipitously based solely on the waiting-time for the bill (citation anyone?) and the Hawthorne Effect.

I’m not saying the book was entirely my idea or anything…

This review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (an exploration of what causes people to be successful; get a taste from this recent New Yorker piece) reminded me of a long-ago correspondence I had with Mr. Gladwell.

Date: 6/16/01
From: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)
To: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)

I just thought I’d get the “I’m a fan!” thing out of the way up front…

[rambling enthusiastic feedback, introduction, etc. snipped]

Date: 6/18/01
From: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)
To: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)

hi there. thanks for the sweet email. i’m delighted you find my stories interesting. and i love the auto seat anectode (which i have already shared with my editor). your job sounds very cool. if you ever run across what seems to be a cool case study, do let me know. cheers, mtg

Date: 8/28/01
From: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)
To: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)

I don’t know I’ve got a case study, but a couple of ideas that seem (to me) deserving of your insight.

Dynasties – how the hell in the US can the son of a president grow up to be president? And his brother is the governor of a state? I mean, there’s something very obvious about parents passing opportunities and values onto their children but is it more than that? What about the social structures we’ve erected that suggest that anyone can be anything they want? Is there something about biology here?

Prodigies – the sports issue of the New Yorker had a thing about Tiger Woods (this was months ago) that kind of had me scratching my head – by some random set of circumstances he picked up a club at a young age, and was good at it. His parents noticed this (another perhaps rare condition) and encouraged it (yet another one), and voila.

How many prodigies are there that never encounter a violin or whatever? Are they born, or made?

Date: 8/30/01
From: Malcolm Gladwell (malcolm@—-)
To: Steve Portigal (steve.portigal@—–)

hi there. thanks for the story ideas.

Klosterman Rock City

I’m psyched to see Chuck Klosterman (who I’ve gently raved about before) resurface (after SPIN) at Eqsuire, where he is writing of-the-moment (and sometimes controversial) stories about (pop) culture topics, such as The “Snakes on a Plane” Problem

I worked in newspapers for eight years, right when that industry was starting to disintegrate. As such, we spent a lot of time talking with focus groups, forever trying to figure out what readers wanted. And here is what they wanted: everything. They wanted shorter stories, but also longer stories. They wanted more international news, but also more local news. And more in-depth reporting. And more playful arts coverage. And less sports. And more sports. And maybe some sports on the front page.

When it comes to mass media, it’s useless to ask people what they want; nobody knows what they want until they have it. If studios start to view the blogosphere as some kind of massive focus group, two things will happen: The first is that the movies will become idiotic and impersonal, which is probably pre¬¨dictable. But the less predictable second result will be that many of those movies will still fail commercially, even if the studios’ research was perfect. If you asked a hundred million people exactly what they wanted from a movie, and you used that data to make exactly the film they claimed to desire, it might succeed. Or it might not. Making artistic decisions by consensus doesn\’t work any better than giving one person complete autonomy; both strategies work roughly half the time.

I don’t know that Klosterman is the next Gladwell; I hope he doesn’t get managed/edited into that role. He’s more about looking again at something we’ve all been looking at than in coming up with wild connections between things we didn’t know were related. And he’s (still) focused on telling stories, often about himself. The pop culture beat is an important one, and even though it shifts near-seamlessly into implications for marketing and business (umm, hello, this blog, case-in-point?), I hope Chuck can sit that part of it out and stick to what he’s done best (rather than entering the dark waters of populism that this piece focuses on).


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