Malcolm Gladwell

MalcolmHost unlimited photos at for FREE! spoke at LMS 2007.  He is the author of the Tipping Point and Blink.  Both have sold millions of copies (he could not tell me the actual numbers apart from ‘loads’).

In a fascinating talk, he reflected on decision making.  If we expect a justification of all decisions before we are able to make them, we put people in an impossible position.  His solution:

Relax the requirement for why

Trust the people you work with

Forgive them if they screw up.

This leads to more creative decisions from people with knowledge and experience (not novices!).


To make good decisions you have to strip away data not add information. You can obscure facts in a fog of information.  He cited the A and E Department in a major hospital in New York as an example of this.  When the Doctors were making a decison on whether a patient was having a heart attack or not, the accuracy of diagnosis went up when the data presented was reduced to only 4 variables rather than the 10 or 12 they were used to working with.

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  1. Interesting point made about obscuring facts in a fog of information.- I have worked with trilingual patent examiners and the best of them were able to make swift decisions. My impression was there was a bell curve surrounding their decision making and as soon as they got to be over absorbed in content,decisions were not so good. On the other hand if they got it wrong and there was an appeal,they lost their credibility suffered in what was an initiation rite de passage. I also appeared the better examiners had stronger social networks.

    There’s something primitive about the way we process information. Isn’t the expression ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ one of those that is almost universally translateable?

    Related to obscuring facts from information one of my former colleagues Peter Pirolli and a leader in sense making once compared searching informaion on the web to looking for a needle in a hay stack and compared our web decisionmaking to tha of animals in the wild.
    Using biological techniques to search the web better – The Bumble Bee

    How was Malcolm?- when I last saw him he reminded me a bit of Gene Wilder/Art Garfunkel!

    Sandra H recommended your site and she has excellent judgement. Richard

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