Around two years ago, I started reading a book called ‘Blink‘ By Malcolm Gladwell. The book dealt with instant decisions we made almost all the time and the factors they were based on.It answered questions like how did some people become brilliant decision makers while others were inept? I read about a psychologist who, after observing a couple for a couple of minutes, could predict the state of their marriage. I read about how an instant decision could also go horribly wrong and end up in the killing of an innocent civilian by armed police. I read about brilliant social experiments involving a gorilla and a basketball court. Needless to say, I was hooked. I felt more intelligent. I pursued more non conventional non fiction books like Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, Outliers, Think! and several others. This image conveys what I thought at the time.
Thus I started discoursing to my close friends about an interesting experiment I had read in one of these books or explaining a concept that defied conventional thinking. I was under the impression that what I had read was the truth. That Malcolm Gladwell, whose work I had read the most, had his theories completely based on fact and where he had extrapolated a conclusion from a series of separate experiments, that conclusion was well within the bounds of being reasonable. Thus now, I felt I had an identity. I had a pet peeve so to say. Something I was very interested in. Something that made me, if not unique, at least gave me something interesting to tell people. But recently an article I read made me sit back and try to self analyze how accurate I was in this portrayal of myself. Here is the article, titled ‘Why Malcolm Gladwell Matters (And why that’s unfortunate)‘ By Christopher Chabris.
If you were too lazy to read the article, here is the essence of what struck me as the most pertinent part of the article. Talking about Malcolm Gladwell readers, a quote from the article goes, “Who are those people? They are the readers who will take Gladwell’s laws, rules, and causal theories seriously; they will tweet them to the world, preach them to their underlings and colleagues, write them up in their own books and articles, and let them infiltrate their own decision-making processes. These are the people who will learn to trust their guts (Blink), search out and lavish attention and money on fictitious “influencers” (The Tipping Point), celebrate neurological problems rather than treat them (David and Goliath), and fail to pay attention to talent and potential because they think personal triumph results just from luck and hard work (Outliers). It doesn’t matter if these are misreadings or imprecise readings of what Gladwell is saying in these books—they are common readings, and I think they are more common among exactly those readers Gladwell says are his audience.”
Sure, I am taking this out of context. But the point here is, Christopher thinks that while Malcolm Gladwell is no doubt an entertaining science writer, the ” main flaw is a lack of logic and proper evidence in the argumentation“. How do I approach this attack on my intellectual pursuits?
Let’s try the conventional approach. A comparison of achievements.
Well, in terms of academics Christopher wins. He has more than eminently qualified to judge Malcolm Gladwell’s work. So if he finds himself doubting Malcolm’s methodology, standing on the shoulder’s of his academic qualifications, I am more than inclined to believe him. But am I going to stop reading Malcolm Gladwell? Of course not. Like I said he writes very well and has a distinctive, engaging style. For lack of a better word, he is the middle man between hardcore psychology or social phenomenon and the common man, aka me. Because of his books, I have a better understanding of several social structures and assorted phenomenon. I can discuss ‘the 10,000 hour rule‘ or ‘the rule of 150‘ with other people. It still gives me something interesting to talk about. Even this very argument gives me good material for my blog. This self analysis has even shaped my overall world view in some perceptible way and I am grateful for it.
So my two cents or its indian equivalent, 1.23 rupees, is that the world is not divided into black and white. Malcolm Gladwell is not fully wrong but not fully right either. But then again people would say the same about Hitler. I guess the point I am trying to make is that, at the age of 21, I am probably too young to take sides, I am just here to learn. And boy, do I have a lot to learn.