I’m a major fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s writing but this book was a slow starter for me, and at least I was a bit disappointed. Stories about chicken grills, hair dying products and the birth control pill are mildly interesting or amusing, but not the mind-tickling stuff that I have started to expect from Gladwell. This book revolves not, like his previous works, around a central theme, but rather it’s a collection of stories and articles written previously. All do have in common, however, that they are all about what goes on inside people’s minds.
The book is in three parts in which the first part, “Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius” is mainly interesting because of two stories. Firstly, I finally find out about the qualities of ketchup, and more importantly why Coca Cola tastes good, and a generic supermarket cola horrible. Secondly, there’s a chapter about Nassim Taleb and black swans, which obviously had my professional interest.
Part Two is titled “Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses” and finally picks up pace and interest. Here we find stories about Enron and how it’s not a problem of disguising information, but rather how too much information makes it difficult to see the signs. Also discussed is the dilemma of tackling power-law distribution problems, seeing patterns that predict bad events in the future (which turns out to be very easy in hindsight, but is often impossible at the time), the art of failure (and the difference between choking/over-thinking and panicking) and there is even a chapter on ‘normal accidents’. The only not all that HSEQ-related story is the one about intellectual property, but that one is also very thought-provoking and not quite predictable at all!
The third part deals with “Personality, Character and Itelligence”. Highly relevant questions are treated here. How do we know that we hire the right people if formal qualifications alone are not enough to determine if one will do a great job. And do we actually use the right method selecting them anyway – what is the value of a job interview, and how could it be done better? Criminal profiling gets a very critical treament and the ‘talent myth’ even more (Enron and their consultants McKinsey 'get it' heavily here).
So, after initial disappointment, I believe this is a book that I will return to at some point in the future. At least to the last two thirds which are recommended reading.
I've read the Penguin paperback, ISBN 9780141047980.