What the dog saw
By the third article in this book (it is, obviously, a collection of what I assume the author deemed to be his best stuff) I had a very strong déjà vu feeling. Mr. Gladwell approaches every subject in the exact same manner – not one particular to him; it’s just the common lifestyle article, including the description of your subject’s looks, manner and clothing, the place where you meet and his disposition (of which Mr. Gladwell does a lot and generally in the third part of every piece). And I don’t necessarily want to criticize him for it; most likely if you read his work in a newspaper it doesn’t strike you – but in book form, one after another, it all comes off as redundant. No matter what the subject, every piece feels the same –a bit like writing by numbers. And, while I sometimes have a misplaced sense of duty to finish a book once I started it (and not skip parts) – this time it just made sense to read only articles where the subject interested me, especially after the first two which were on the supremacy of Heinz ketchup and some kind of kitchen aid sold on infomercials respectively. Of course, behind the kitchen aid there’s the whole story of the family who invented it and the passion, dedication and talent they needed to succeed – but I wouldn’t exactly be in their target audience 😛
Truth is I like anecdotes but, while the Tipping Point had a central thesis and used them to support it, these articles are just…odd bits and ends. And I knew this getting into it, so the disappointment is really bad expectation management on my part. Besides, there are some interesting pieces – but all of them can be found on the author’s site, so the book strikes me as ultimately pretty useless.
Moving on to what I liked though: the article on the evolution of society’s attitude towards hair color products (True Colors) featuring some Madison Avenue figures from the 50s to the 70s, because they reminded me of Mad Men and gave me the impression that they are what Peggy Olsen is striving to become. There’s also a very topical article on copyright, copyright infringement and how society nowadays goes overboard in its attempt to protect it: A certain property fundamentalism, having no connection to our tradition now reins in this culture – says prof. Lessing, one of Mr. Gladwell’s sources. And this article is almost 10 years old.
John Rock’s Error deals with the early days of the birth control pill and its inception by a devout catholic doctor who, in his attempt to reconcile his profession and his church, failed to take into account certain evolutionary perspectives when creating the pill; Connecting the Dots puts forth the concept of creeping determinism, where unexpected events turn into expected events post-facto and argues that this might be the case of Sept 11th (and of many other terrorist attacks); Late Bloomers deals with genius taken for granted (or rather, with those who simply have it) vs. worked-for genius (those who find their calling, their rhythm late in life – using Cezanne as an example) and The New-Boy Network discusses interviews and their usefulness in finding the right person. I particularly liked this one, probably because it confirmed my own belief that we hire based on hunches; that, as Mr. Gladwell puts is, the interview is hopelessly biased in favor of the nice and we really hear what we want to hear. This type of interview – the desexualized version of a date, as Mr. Gladwell puts it, is opposed to the structured interview with its narrower scope and standardized questions which, by contrast, seem to offer only the dry logic and practicality of an arranged marriage. It doesn’t offer any conclusion as to which might be better – first and foremost, after all, it depends on the job itself – but I appreciated that it structured and rearranged a few ideas for me. Which, after all, is probably what any such article aims to do.