Malcolm Gladwell kicked off his book tour for "Blink" (which looks at phenomena like "thin-slicing" and snap judgments) last night at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. He's already been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company and Slate, so I figured it was worth taking the time to see what the big hullabaloo was all about...
Judging from the size of the crowd, it looks like the new book will be a big seller, along the lines of The Tipping Point. The only problem is that so many of the observations in the book appear to be, well, obvious. Considering that his last book came out in 2000 and it's already 2005, I was hoping for something a bit more profound. Nevertheless, when I heard that major companies plucked down $40,000 a pop to hear him speak, I wanted to get a taste of the secret sauce. Gladwell started the book talk with a talk about the "snap judgments" that orchestra conductors make when they audition trombone players for new parts, and followed that up with the "spooky" fact that most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are three inches taller than the rest of Americans. In my opinion, it's not the fact that taller Americans make better CEOs, or that boards of directors like to appoint tall CEOs -- it's the fact that athletes have the type of poise, confidence and team-building skills that are in demand for the CEO position. And, well, most athletes are taller than the average person. So what's so "spooky" about tall CEOs?
In a 30-minute presentation, there were three major points made by Gladwell:
(1) So-called "snap" judgments are often extraordinarily complex and contain a number of hidden assumptions that we, as thinkers, may never even suspect.
(2) It is often the case that it is better to make decisions with "less" information, not "more" information. Too much information can lead to a form of analysis paralysis.
(3) While it may be impossible to change someone's opinion or thought process, it is possible to change someone's environment. By changing the environment, it is often possible to produce a very real impact on the final outcome.
Of these three points, #3 is probably the most important from a business perspective, followed by #2 and #1.