So. Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t like the word “intuition” because it refers (for him) to “emotional reactions, gut feelings—thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational” (Conversation 1). And he’s got this really crazy hair. Even though the book isn’t about Gladwell, he gives us little clues about who he is, the way that he sees the world, his purpose as a writer and a thinker. As we mention in our study guide, Gladwell started with a question. Do you know what that question is? Why do you think he arrived at the conclusions he did? Are there questions that are left unanswered by Gladwell that you would like to understand or explore? Knowing who the author of a book is, how he/she arrived at conclusions can often help us understand the material a little bit better.
In my mind, Gladwell comes off as a quirky guy who is willing to not only theorize and to back up his assertions but also to test them. I also think he has a sense of humor about serious ideas. In the “Acknowledgements” section at the end of the book, he devotes a brief discussion to why he grew his hair out. What started as a whim, revealed to him how “thin-slicing” can be more than a theoretical concept. It can be an abrupt reality for any of us. How do we balance our neurological and evolutionary imperative for making quick decisions in a world where those imperatives often lead to judgments based on stereotypes?
He recounts that once his long hair appeared “I started getting speeding tickets—and I had never gotten any before. I started getting pulled out of airport security lines for special attention. And one day, as I was walking along Fourteenth Street in downtown Manhattan, a police van pulled up on the sidewalk, and three officers jumped out” (284). Clearly our “thin-slicing” is a powerful mechanism for decision making, but what happens when it doesn’t go our way?
Many of the comments from our students so far have honed in on how clear his argument is and how apparent his purpose is—that of helping us to be aware of how our brain works in order to inspire us to act differently when possible. Why do you think he wants us to be aware of the nature of our brains in this way? Getting to know who the author is can be helpful in understanding his conclusions, arguments and examples. I started with a Google search and remembered hearing an interview with him on one of my favorite radio programs. Check it out here. Or some other interviews with him on a variety of topics.
I also notice that he chose to use anecdotal reasoning as the structure for the book, thereby giving us information in the form of a story. He chooses wide ranging examples from the kouros sculpture (introduction) to pop music (chapter five) to a discussion of audition processes in orchestras (chapter six). He always reviews each example and explicates it further at the end of the story in order to unpack it for the reader and show us how it applies to his larger argument and framework. His examples are relatable to almost anyone even though he is discussing complex material and intellectual ideas. Why do you think he does the book this way? Does it have something to do with his personality and purpose? How do we find out?
Ultimately, do you think Gladwell is successful in convincing us of his point?