Malcolm Gladwell

BiopicEvery year, a variety of New Yorkers, who support the organization PEN, open up their home to authors for intimate gatherings.  Not only is it a great way to raise money for PEN, it is a wonderful way to listen to authors talk about their books.

I went to one last night where the author, Malcolm Gladwell, spoke about himself and his books, The Tipping Point and Blink.  Malcolm is an interesting character.  Bright and articulate.  Love the hair.

I found his books sort of interesting.  He has done a great job of aggregating information about how people make decisions and think.  Alot of it is common sense but it is certainly thought provoking.  He doesn’t really make a statement in his books but highlights points. 

Timing in life is everything.  I think his books have had such success because of the times we are living in.  Quick decisions.  Everything is moving so fast.  Advertising is changing the way we think.  Politicians are using these techniques regardless if the information they are pushing is true or not. 

The most interesting conversations we had last night were about his possible next book.  He is looking at studies done on education.  Is going to Harvard going to make a difference in the success of a person if they go to Penn State?  He says not.  People are either motivated or not and that is not something that can not be taught.  So, if a person applies to Penn State and U of Penn and gets into both schools, it doesn’t make any difference which one they choose because the end result will be the same.  I happen to agree.  I believe you should push yourself to the highest level you can but some of the most successful people I  know didn’t go to great institutions for college or high school.  It will be interesting to read this next book and read the studies that he has cited. 

I’d say the majority of the people at the table last night, at least the more verbal ones, we’re not going with that hypothesis about education.  Again, timing is everything.  Coming out with a book about this subject matter in a time when most parents control their kids lives and are so neurotic, it might be refreshing to get people to lighten up.  One of the questions last night is why and when did parents become afraid for their kid to walk down the street, or ride their bike to their friends house, or not have everything structured?  It is probably the media and the access to so much information that people don’t know what to believe.  Is it scarier now than it was in 1960?  I don’t believe so, statistics actually says it is not, but the media plays up everything so that your perception is skewed. 

Wikipedia was brought up.  One particular article, said that all the information on Wikipedia isn’t true.  So, people were saying last night that 50% of that information on that site is false.  One article and they have come up with that.  Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia with user generated content.  The site is monitored for bogus information.  It has more information by probably 10 fold than a encyclopedia you read at your local library.  My friend at Doubleday doesn’t even think it makes sense for them to publish encyclopedias anymore.  The information is so vast on Wikipedia that they could never compete.  Do you know how many researchers that they would have to hire?  Also, does anyone reading an encyclopedia just assume that it is true or do they do research to confirm their facts? I would hope that my kids would use a variety of information not just one publication to form an opinion about something.  Again, how do you sift through all the information being thrown at us daily? 

All and all, interesting conversations.  I am not sure I agreed with the majority of what people said but as my father used to say, that’s what makes horse races.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Jonathan

    I just had an interesting conversation about the topic you mentioned (“…One of the questions last night is why and when did parents become afraid for their kid to walk down the street, or ride their bike to their friends house, or not have everything structured?…”) with a college friend who grew up in the southern California suburbs. She had all the freedom in the world growing up (in the late ’60s/early 70s). Her parents didn’t know where she was minute by minute and were fine with it. Today, her two kids (11 and 14 boys) are in constant touch with her and have far less freedom than she did. She reasoned that the suburbs were much less dense when she grew up — fewer houses, fewer cars, and fewer people — than they are now. It isn’t safe for an 11 year old to bike from house to house simply because of all the cars (and inexperienced teenage drivers piloting them). Those empty fields that she hung out in are housing developments. Her kids have lots of afterschool activities that she never had. Why? Because they weren’t available to her. They simply didn’t exist. My wife, who grew up in the NJ suburbs had the same experience. I wonder how this compares to parents brought up in urban areas and how it varies by age, parenting style, and how social the kids are?

    On the topic of education and whether it matters where you go to school, I think it does. I am reminded of the story of a guy in a white-shoe investment bank who was inducted into a department just after the training program was over. The head of the department went through the resumes and pulled out all the Harvard grads. Without the benefit of an interview, they were simply assigned to the prestigious department. When the trainee showed up and turned out to be black, he was asked if he really went to Harvard (remember this was probably 1970 when this supposedly happened). “Harvard”, he said, “I went to Howard”. By then it was too late and he was already in the department. Within a dozen years he was running the department. The value of those iconic names on a resume is not to be under-estimated. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll actually have learned something useful there and made some lifelong friends.

  2. Ted

    There was a recent “study” by some British academics published on the BBC that gave wikipedia very high marks for overall accuracy. In my opinion, there may be omissions and some over simplifications, but then again, it is an encyclopedia, thus for me fit serves a very good purpose: to quickly familiarize yourself with the broad facts of something.

    While I think it is utterly amazing, part of me cringes at the dynamic aspect of the site as “history” can be re-written in almost real time with little record to account for it. I would like to see some controls where you could find the history of a given topic. Perhaps there is and I just have missed it.

    Great post.