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Meeting Malcolm Gladwell in person

Was quite a different experience to hearing him on stage. Quietly spoken, intense and clearly not so comfortable with endlessly meeting people. He was more like an academic than a journalist. Perhaps he is an academic but what faculty would he belong to? He chose journalism to deeply research and then provide commentary on the social structures.
I pondered, did he have any idea that his books would be so phenomenally successful? That the Tipping Point and Blink would become essential reading for anyone interested in social connectedness? He practised what he preached? he put the book ‘out there’ and waited for others to spread the word.
So I gathered some gems from Malcolm, which reinforced particularly the content of Blink. I share what I learned:

  • You can have knowledge without understanding. We don’t know how we make a decision, we have no explanation, it is a ‘gut’ response. We just do it, we are dealing with unconscious knowledge gathered from years of experience.
  • “Marketers are delusional if they think they can ask customers what they think and get an accurate answer? because their decisions are primarily unconscious judgements.” People will tell you what they think because they cannot articulate what they experience. He gave the example of people attending movie previews when they are asked what they thought of the film the responses are vastly different to the physical and neurological reactions that they were having whilst actually watching the film.
  • Market research was originally invented by psychologists who knew that people might say ‘I hate my mother’ but comments need interpretation. They reviewed the data based on other sets of behaviour. Intuition had a lot to do with successful analysis. “Most market research is just a whole lot of data? without any real interpretation based on understanding how humans work”. People cannot really tell you what they think because they do not know their subconscious.
  • When you really want something it will often cloud your judgment.Our judgment is very fragile. And we make better judgments on our own. Groups are not conducive to good decisions. (It made me think of the old saying ‘management by committee’)
  • Judgments, in fact, can be quite frugal, and more data does not necessarily mean better decision making. An overwhelming amount of data can mean that fewer decisions are made. Too much information, too many variables can cause a lack of clarity. The greater the number of variables the harder it is for us to attach the appropriate weights to the variables. Therefore we are better off limiting the variables to those which are most important because that is much easier for us to process.
  • Quick judgments often allow you to zero in on what really matters. However, we live in a society that is infatuated with data.
    Wisdom and Understanding do not come from data. In fact limiting data can often give us greater clarity.
  • Malcolm pointed out that even ‘experts’ need protection from bias. If we really believe that something is true because that is the opinion of the time, then it is very hard to change. We live in an information-obsessed world, based on the centrality of judgment and rules.
  • Smaller organisations are much better positioned to thrive and innovate because they operate outside the traditional in-command dictum. Over-reliance on data can stifle innovation.

Malcolm, thank you for making the trek to Sydney. We really enjoyed your visit.

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