Friday, 1 July 2011

How Malcolm's Mind Works

Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures is a collection of the author’s articles published in The New Yorker magazine from 1996 to 2008. While articles are loosely grouped together, it is the sort of book you can pick up to read the articles in no particular order.

Gladwell has an inquisitive mind, which leads him to examine a diverse range of obscure and interesting topics including: birth control; breast screening; plagiarism; ketchup; criminal profiling; and, kitchen gadgets.

Despite the high quality of the writing, the variety in the subject matter results in an uneven read. Some topics were fascinating while others left me shrugging indifferently. There were a number of chapters which particularly interested me and that I continue to ponder.

The chapter I think about most often is “Million Dollar Murray”. It describes how solutions that can end homelessness (like free housing) are more cost effective than the support services needed to assist the homeless. Gladwell reviews the causes of homelessness (often addiction, mental illness and/or unemployment) and the costs of supporting the homeless (medical, legal, shelters, rehab etc). He then examines how several American cities approached this complex issue.

Giving hope to those of us who were not child prodigies, “Late Bloomers” looks at people who have not found their passions until later in life and then excelled.

In “The Art of Failure” Gladwell explores what happens when competent, qualified and experienced people are under pressure and let their emotions get the better of them. Do they choke or do they panic – and what determines their response?

The difficulties of hiring the right person for the job was the subject of “Most Likely to Succeed” where Gladwell looked at how someone who looks good on paper may fail in a different environment.

These are just a few of the thought provoking and insightful articles that I particularly enjoyed. What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures would also be excellent fodder for group discussion and debate.