January 23, 2005
Malcolm Gladwell at MicrosoftMalcolm Gladwell, on tour to promote his book Blink, stopped by Microsoft Research for a talk on Friday. I'd say there were at least 200 people there, in a room that seats 120.
Gladwell writes consistently fascinating articles for The New Yorker, which usually involve investigating something that most people don't think about much, such as shopping malls or ketchup, and elucidating both the fascinating and the mundane that lies beneath. Some, like "Clicks and Mortar", are classics (remember that was written at the height of the boom); another one got me my first accepted Slashdot submission.
Blink is about snap judgements, the ones we make in the blink of an eye. Actually its a bit more than that; interview decisions and a lot of research are also "snap" judgements, even though they make more time than the blink of an eye, because they are based on quick impressions rather than longer thinking. Gladwell spoke about snap judgements and made three points:
- They are based on our unconscious thoughts.
- They are extremely fragile and volatile, and can be influenced by extremely minor factors we are unaware of.
- When people are asked to explain them, rather than admit that they don't know why they their unconscious thought a certain way, they just make something up.
- The act of putting someone on the spot to make a judgement about something will make them represent "this thing is different from what I am used to" as "I hate this object".
(Well, that was what he said; somehow he got it into three points, not four.)
The specific example he drew from the book was the market research on the Aeron chair, famed dot-com status symbol. Evidently when they market researched it, everyone said it was very comfortable but also very ugly. As it happened, Herman Miller trusted the designer, Bill Stumpf, enough to bring the thing to market, and a couple of years later when the chair was "hip", follow-up research revealed that people now thought it was quite beautiful. Forcing them to make a decision about it quickly caused people to turn "unusual" into "ugly".
Actually even today it's apparent that opinions on the Aeron are still divided; some people still think it is butt-ugly, and in fact some people think it is mighty uncomfortable also. But Gladwell's point was that this kind of market research really biases against innovative products making it to market (it seems this is somewhat related to the Innovator's Dilemma; upmarket companies would tend to do more market research than downmarket ones, and would also tend to use current customers for the market research, and if this steered them away from innovative products, it would exacerbate the effect). Gladwell suggests, as one alternative, that the company give the chairs to people to use for a month, and then see what they think.
After speaking for about half an hour, Gladwell took questions. Someone asked the obvious one about how this relates to Microsoft usability testing, and there were a couple of standard ones about voting and juries. Since I knew Gladwell has written about job interviews, I asked him about whether job interviews were snap judgements and whether Microsoft's rule that everyone send interview feedback right away would lead them to the "different is bad" trap. I think the answer he gave was his standard "interviews don't work" meme, which only addresses the first part of my question: an hour-long interview can judge extrovertedness and whether you are attracted to someone and vice versa (as he put it, "interviewing is great if you are looking for employees to hit on"), but that "in an interview you cannot judge how hard-working or committed someone is. You just can't!" (which of course flies in the face of Microsoft wisdom that you can judge precisely those things, while being immune to the distorting effects of extrovertedness and attractiveness).
Afterwards Gladwell signed books, including a copy of Blink that I had bought before the talk (these were being sold by a woman named Kim Ricketts, who I guess is carving out a niche for herself putting on book events; she was going through the line waiting for signatures and writing everyone's name on a piece of paper, so the signing would go faster). I followed up on my question about feedback causing bias against unusual candidates, which actually gave him a moment of pause (an accomplishment!).
I saw Robert Scoble there, who was taking a few pictures for his link blog. In fact in this picture, that is me right behind the person getting an autograph; it's my hand holding a copy of the book and my laptop (and no, Gladwell doesn't have a goatee, that's someone's shoe). What Gladwell is signing in the picture is this cover from Fast Company, related to an article titled "The Accidental Guru".
Posted by AdamBa at January 23, 2005 08:43 AM
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MALCOLM GLADWELL'S OVER-HYPED BUT NO DOUBT ENTERTAINING TWO POP-SCI BOOKS ARE LONG KNOWN TO PHYSICISTS:
"THE TIPPING POINT"
IS WHAT IS CALLED [A LA TOPOLOGIST RENE THOM(R.I.P.)] "CATASTROPHE-THEORY", REMARKETED IN PHYSICS, BY [(AS USUAL) MINDLESS NONSENSICAL COMPUTER-SIMULATION NUMBER-CRUNCHING MODELING], OF/BY PER BAK(R.I.P.) (~1987) AS JAZZILY-"SHOW-BIZ"-NAMED "SELF-ORGANIZED-CRITICALITY" NONSENSE, MERELY A RESTATEMENT OF NEWTON'S LAW OF MOTION F = ma IN DUAL/INTEGRAL-TRANSFORM FREQUENCY-SPACE[E. SIEGEL, LAST REFERENCE IN BRACKET TO FOLLOW!!!] BASED UPON WITHOUT CREDIT WORK OF MANY IN ACOUSTIC-EMISSION [E. SIEGEL: PHYSICA STATUS SOLIDI (1971)-2-PAPERS!; IEEE ULTRASONICS SYMPOSIUM, MONTEREY (1973); SCRIPTA METALLURGICA (1974)-2-PAPERS!;ACTA METALLURGICA (1977); 3RD INTL. CONF. ON ACOUSTIC-EMISSION, TOKYO (1976)-PUBLISHED BY "JIPA" (1977); INTL. CONF. ON INTERNAL-FRICTION AND ULTRASONIC-ATTENUATION, MANCHESTER (1979); "SYMP. ON SCALING...", MATERIALS RESEARCH SOCIETY FALL MTG., BOSTON (1990)!!!;...]
IS A POP-SCI RESTATEMENT OF SIEGEL (1980)-(1986)-(1989) "FUZZYICS" TABULAR LIST-FORMAT ANALYSIS LOOKUP-TABLE/TRUTH-TABLE TO DO PHYSICS AND EVEN SOME PURE-MATHEMATICS,
SIMULTANEOUSLY AND AUTOMATICALLY
"EUREKA!!!" + "SHAZAM!!!"
TO ANSWER CHALLANGE OF COHEN AND STEWART, "THE COLLAPSE OF CHAOS: FINDING SIMPLICITY IN A COMPLEX-WORLD", PENGUIN (1992) TWO NEW WORDS:
"COMPLIC-ITY" = BOTTOM-UP MANY-TO-FEW (QUASI)-INDUCTION
"SIMPLIC-ITY" = TOP-DOWN FEW-TO-MANY DEDUCTION,
BOTH SIMULTANEOUSLY AUTOMATICALY ONLY VIA "FUZZYICS" TABULAR LIST-FORMAT ANALYSIS LOOKUP-TABLE/TRUTH-TABLE!!!
[EXAMPLES: ARTIFICIAL-NEURAL-NETWORKS ACCELERATION VIA BOSE-EINSTEIN CONDENSATION; INVERSION OF CLASSIC (BUT HARDLY CLASSIC-AL!!!) SIMON-(INVENTOR OF THE...COMPUTER!!!)-NEWCOMBE(1881)-WEYL(1912; 1916)-BENFORD(1938) [JUST GOOGLE "BENFORD'S LAW"] STATISTICAL ON-AVERAGE "NeWBe"-LOGARITHMIC-LAW TO YIELD (SURPRISE!!!) ONLY BOSE-EINSTEIN QUANTUM-STATISTICS (IN 1881 = 20 YEARS BEFORE PLANCK(1901); 25 YEARS BEFORE EINSTEIN (1905); ~ 47 YEARS BEFORE BOSE & EINSTEIN(1924-1925),WITH DENOMINATOR-EXPONENTIAL TAYLOR/POWER-SERIES-EXPANSION TO YIELD "1"/[P = w = f]^(1.000...)-HYPERBOLICITY "NOISE"/GENERALIZED-SUSCEPTIBILITY POWER-SPECTRUM INEVITABILITY!!!; MILLENIUM-PROBLEMS/PROOFS: P VS. NP CONJECTURE IN FOUR-STEPS, FERMAT'S LAST-THGEOREM IN SIX-STEPS, BIRCH-SWINNERTON-DYER CONJECTURE, MODULAR-ARITHMETIC,...]
BY INSPECTION: = "EUREKA!!!" + "SHAZAM!!!":
MAYBE HIS TWO BOOKS ARE NO DOUBT ENTERTAINING POP-SCI "SHOW-BIZ", . . .
BUT BOTH [EXIST WITHIN "FUZZYICS"' (USE OF COGNITIVE-SEMANTICS INTERROGATORIES/QUESTIONS FIRST: WHAT?, WHERE?, (+) WHEN?, WHY? (AND PERHAPS EVEN WHY???) INTERROGATORIES/QUESTIONS, LONG BEFORE AND VERY OFTEN IN PLACE OF TRADITIONAL BY-ROTE COMPUTER-"JOCK" - MESMERIZING INTERROGATORIES/QUESTIONS: HOW? AND HOW MUCH?]AND HAVE FOR ~ 20-25 YEARS!!!] . . .
BUT BOTH ARE . . .
NOT NEW AND NOT NEWS!!!
[COPIES E-MAILED UPON REQUEST]
DR. EDWARD SIEGEL
Posted by: DR. EDWARD SIEGEL at April 5, 2005 10:17 PM