Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gladwell Fest

Was so intrigued by Gladwell's Outliers that I picked up both Blink and The Tipping Point.
The Tipping Point is a look at trends that go from mild to wild. What causes an epidemic? Gladwell (at right) starts with a look at the viral world of common flu, HIV and jumps seamlessly into discussions about what causes a Hush Puppie resurgence or makes a litte ol' boring program like Blues Clues wildly successful. He talks about the personality types that start and fuel trends, Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen, discusses the stickiness factor (what makes things memorable), and, once again, focuses on The Power of Context. The case studies were fascinating, and his analysis of social change thought provoking. I especially enjoyed the case studies of Paul Revere's Ride and The Rise and Fall of New York Cities Crime.
Note: to those working to be agents of change: "(Wesley) realized that if you wanted to bring about a fundamental change in people's belief and behavior, a change that would persist and serve as an example to others, you needed to create a community around them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and nurtured." Seems like no man is an island. Context rules for Gladwell.
Blink, the Power of Thinking Without Thinking." This book was about "thin-slicing," which "refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of is part of what makes the unconscious dazzling." Simply put, it is about how we size up situations, things and people in a blink of an eye; "spontaneity isn't random." Gladwell touches on the "10,000 hours to expert status" information, but really camps on how what we know informs and determines our lives. Again, his case studies are fascinating and varied, ranging from sports and marriage to the military.

One of the case studies was on Paul Van Riper's win against the Blue Team during the most expensive war game to date. Blue Team had every advantage, computers, experts, analytic equipment, etc. yet they lost to Ripper, who relied on out-dated technology and communication systems like bike couriers. Ripper explains, "They were so focused on the mechanics and the process that they never looked at the problem holistically. In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning." Wise words for those of us living in a post-modern world.

Blink is also the title of a book written by Ted Dekker, which addresses pre-destination and determinism. Dekker approaches the theme of thin-slicing through fiction in the context of one's faith while Gladwell uses cutting edge neuro-science and psychology to take a look at the same mesmerizing theme from a societal pov.

Gladwell was recently quoted in a message board, his work used as proof of the argument that we are determined by context. Life is full of the unexpected, God working in mysterious ways, the captive freed. I enjoy social psychology but think that it too must be put in context. It's one tool, not a bible. Useful and informative in a world full of the unexpected.

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