Saturday, October 5, 2013

What Malcolm Gladwell Left Out of His Latest Book

Malcolm Gladwell Keynoted at ACR 2013

I heard author +Malcolm Gladwell   speak at ACR North America~ 2013 on October 4th. in Chicago  Gladwell provided the keynote address to the conference of consumer researchers that has attracted over 1300 attendees this year. The speech was the second stop on Gladwell’s book tour for his new book David and Goliath.  The book is about asymmetrical conflicts where the smaller party has more power.  For example in the David and Goliath story, Goliath appears to have more power, but a closer reading of the Bible story indicates that Goliath may have had a form of Gigantism that actually left him at a significant disadvantage to the seemingly powerless shepherd boy, David. 

Malcolm Gladwell, ACR 2013, David and Goliath

How Majority Groups Maintain Control

Gladwell’s specialty is looking at contradictions in our world view.  His talk on Friday was about minorities and tokenism and what he called “illicit strategies that the majority groups use to maintain control.”  He examined situations where the smaller party appears to have power but actually does not.  Gladwell cited research on female salespersons, for example, where they did better and were perceived better if there were more of them. It seems that fifteen percent is the minimum number of ‘newcomers’ to achieve a number to get beyond the token effect.

The Difficult of Breaking the “Token” Barrier

Gladwell is nothing if not a good storyteller (and a self-styled skinny Canadian). His stories reach the mind and touch the heart.   He used dramatic accounts of the first female painter to have a painting exhibited by the Royal Academy in England, Elizabeth Thompson, as well as that of the recent female Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to indicate that one person is a token and does not break a barrier.  He predicted that if Hillary Clinton or another female were to be elected President they would probably be the last female President for a long time.  In spite of apparent strides in gender equality, to this day only 7% of neurosurgeons and about 5% of the art displayed in American art museums is by women.  These fields have not progressed beyond tokenism to acceptance.

As usual, Gladwell’s insights were thought-provoking and left more questions than answers.  I have read several of his books and use the book Outliers when I teach database marketing.  The way Gladwell approaches problems and digs through data to find anomalies and contradictions makes him a good role model for the developing data analyst.  We got a copy of David and Goliath for attending the conference and can’t wait to read it for its insights and to see if it is applicable to the classroom situation. Many thanks to the conference organizers for getting such a wonderful keynote speaker.

By Debra Zahay-Blatz.
You can find Debra on  and Twitter as well as LinkedIn.

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