First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Malcolm Gladwell on “Complexity and the Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule”

Photo Caption: Magnus Carlsen (1991-   ), a Norwegian chess grandmaster and the No. 1 ranked player in the world

Magnus Carlsen (1991- ), a Norwegian chess grandmaster and the No. 1 ranked player in the world

Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker (August 21, 2013) in which Gladwell makes a vigorous effort to clarify issues that always result from careless reading and simplistic thinking. To read the complete article, please click here.

Photo Credit: Photograph by Kent Skibstad/AFP/Getty

* * *

Forty years ago, in a paper in American Scientist, Herbert Simon and William Chase drew one of the most famous conclusions in the study of expertise:

“There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions….”

In the years that followed, an entire field within psychology grew up devoted to elaborating on Simon and Chase’s observation—and researchers, time and again, reached the same conclusion: it takes a lot of practice to be good at complex tasks. After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years. (The sole exceptions: Shostakovich and Paganini, who took nine years, and Erik Satie, who took eight.)

This is the scholarly tradition I was referring to in my book Outliers, when I wrote about the “ten-thousand-hour rule.” No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, I wrote: “achievement is talent plus preparation.” But the ten-thousand-hour research reminds us that “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.” In cognitively demanding fields, there are no naturals. Nobody walks into an operating room, straight out of a surgical rotation, and does world-class neurosurgery. And second—and more crucially for the theme of Outliers —- the amount of practice necessary for exceptional performance is so extensive that people who end up on top need help. They invariably have access to lucky breaks or privileges or conditions that make all those years of practice possible. As examples, I focussed on the countless hours the Beatles spent playing strip clubs in Hamburg and the privileged, early access Bill Gates and Bill Joy got to computers in the nineteen-seventies. “He has talent by the truckload,” I wrote of Joy. “But that’s not the only consideration. It never is.”

Recently, there has been some confusion about this argument. Some of the critiques are just bewildering. Here, for example, is a passage from an article in Time a few months ago, which makes me think that there is another Malcolm Gladwell out there, with far more eccentric views than mine, who put on a Halloween wig and somehow conned his way into the Time Life Building:

“Based on research suggesting that practice is the essence of genius, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was “the magic number of greatness,” regardless of a person’s natural aptitude. With enough practice, he claimed in his book Outliers, anyone could achieve a level of proficiency that would rival that of a professional. It was just a matter of putting in the time.”

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of Time magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, (2005), Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (October 2013).

Saturday, September 14, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest contribution

Malcolm Gladwell

I highly recommend an issue of The New Yorker (May 16, 2011) that includes Malcolm Gladwell’s article, “Creation Myth,” his latest contribution to the “Annals of Business” series. Gladwell is a brilliant journalist but hardly an original business thinker. His books consist of articles, most of which originally appeared in The New Yorker and all of which cover ground plowed by others.

In Blink, for example, he introduces his concept of the “tipping point” without acknowledging that Andrew Grove discussed the same concept (he called it an “inflection point”) and Grove acknowledges his debt to Michael Kami’s concept of a “trigger point” years before. Outliers offers another example of (a) Gladwell’s erudition and (b) his usual position atop others’ shoulders, sharing the view with his readers. This book is mostly based on others’ insights (notably Geoff Colvin’s in his book, Talent Is Overrated) that – in turn – are mostly based on research conducted since the early-1990s by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University.

If you do not subscribe to The New Yorker, purchase a copy of the aforementioned issue and read Gladwell’s essay. He is again at his best when explaining what he characterizes as “the truth about innovation.” What he reveals is by no means a secret. The separate but interconnected stories are well-known. They feature Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), what Steve Jobs learned from it, the subsequent development of what became the personal computer, and the pivotal role that Gary Starkweather played throughout those years.

What Gladwell learned from his research (which included conversations with several key people such as Starkweather and Nathan Myhrvold) is best revealed in context, within his narrative. However, I am comfortable disclosing that not one but several myths are scrutinized and a few are discredited. He surveys quite a range of colorful history and draws attention to events and consequences that he considers most significant.

Gadwell will continue to make valuable contributions because he is a gifted and energetic journalist who has devised innovative ways to share others’ original ideas. He makes excellent use of his highly-developed skills as a raconteur as well as a cultural anthropologist when reconstructing “story lines” in which colorful “characters” compete for our attention while driven by their curiosity and passion to generate what Jobs characterizes as “insanely great ideas” and then make them even better.

And if you share my high regard for Gladwell’s latest contribution, here are two “must read” books: John Linkner’s Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity and David Kord Murray’s  Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others.

Monday, May 16, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Strategic Intuition: A book review by Bob Morris

Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement
William Duggan
Columbia University Press (2007)

How and why “a modern discipline” can activate “flashes of insight” in a results-driven organization

There is much to be said for eliminating waste throughout an enterprise without transforming it completely, at all levels and in all areas. In this volume, however, William Duggan introduces what he characterizes as a “modern discipline” that holds out the promise to decision-makers of allowing them the organizational equivalent of “having their cake and eating it too.” Easier said than done? Of course. But indeed possible.

The key, Duggan suggests, is to establish and then nourish an environment within which there are continuous flashes of insight: “Suddenly it hits you. It all comes together in your mind. You connect the dots. It can be one big ‘Aha!’ or a series of smaller ones that together show you the way ahead. The fog clears and you see what to do. It seems so obvious. A moment before you had no idea. Now you do.” This in essence is strategic in tuition.

Years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I don’t care a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” With extraordinary skill and uncommon eloquence, Duggan offers in this book what strikes me as being intuition on the other side of complexity. He draws upon a wealth of recent research in neuroscience that explains how and why these enlightened (no pun intended) flashes of insights occur. Duggan doesn’t stop there. He adds that by pulling together various sources (e.g. Asian philosophy, classical military strategy, business strategy, the history of science, and the more recent field of cognitive psychology), “we are able to arrive at a modern discipline that puts flashes of insight at the center of a philosophy of action across all fields of human endeavor.”

Its name is strategic intuition. “It is very different from ordinary intuition, like vague hunches or gut instinct. Ordinary ituition is a form of emotion: feeling, not thinking. Strategic intuition is the opposite: It’s thinking, not feeling. A flash of insight cuts through the fog of your mind with a clear, shining thought. You might feel elated right after, but the thought itself is sharp in your mind. That’s why it excites you: at last you see clearly what to do.” Strategic intuition is also different from snap judgments (i.e. expert intuition such as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Blink), hence the importance of developing the discipline needed to recognize when a given situation is new. In that event, “disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.” It is this term, “discipline,” that differentiates it from all other forms of intuition.

Readers will appreciate Duggan’s brilliant explanation of how and why “a modern discipline,” strategic intuition, can activate “flashes of insight” in a results-driven organization across various professions. I was especially interested in his discussion of intelligent memory (Pages 34-35 and 58-60), the differences between Carl Von Clauswitz’s concept of strategic intuition and Baron Antoine Jomini’s concept of strategic planning (Pages 60-64), the characteristics of two forms of reasoning, associative system and rule-based system (See Table 4.1 on Page 48), the “what-works matrix” (Pages 133, 135-140, and 157), reverse brainstorming (Pages 150-151 and 157), and use of Robin Hogarth’s professional scripts, as opposed to case studies, when teaching students how strategic intuition works (Page 168-170).

Although this is by no means an “easy read,” it is to William Duggan’s great credit that he organizes and presents his material with uncommon clarity and eloquence. When concluding his book, he observes,  “Progress in human affairs comes through opportunity, when someone sees it, seizes it, and turns it into reality.” Strategic intuition thus consists of three separate but related components: recognition, initiative, and achievement. They await those who are both willing and able to complete a journey to As to “the other side of complexity” to which I referred earlier. Only there will creative sparks guide and inform breakthrough achievements with high-impact.

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malcolm Gladwell, the human bot

A bot is a Web robot that completes assigned tasks. I was reminded of that fact as I read Malcolm Gladwell’s article in a recent issue of The New Yorker (May 10, 2010), “Does espionage work?” Three of his books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers) are developed from one of his New Yorker articles and one book, What the Dog Saw, consists of 19 of them.

On behalf of those who read his work, Gladwell gathers information about an especially interesting subject and his research often includes lengthy interviews of those involved. For example, to answer the question, “What does peak performance require?” he examined all relevant research conducted by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University and interviewed Ericsson. He later shares what he learned about peak performance in Outliers, notably that talent’s importance is generally overrated.

Gladwell’s most recent book, What the Dog Saw, could also have been entitled What Malcolm Learned. In it, he shares what he learned about subjects such as these:

How the products invented and then sold by Ron Popeil have helped millions of people to “conquer the American kitchen”

Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than manage

How criminal profiling increases our understanding of “dangerous minds”

How becoming a “people whisperer” helped Cesar Millan to save his marriage as well as become a more successful “dog whisperer”

Unlike other bots, Gladwell has impulses and understands how to act upon them on behalf of those who read his articles and books. It is also worth noting that he can become fascinated by a subject of little (if any) interest to most people, conduct research, and then write a “must read” article about it.

In “The Ketchup Conundrum,” for example, he explains that tomato ketchup “is a nineteenth-century creation – the union of the English tradition of fruit and vegetable sauces and the growing American infatuation with the tomato. But what we know today as ketchup emerged out of a debate that raged in the first years of the last century over benzoate, a preservative widely used in the late-nineteenth century condiments.” When I first read this essay in 2004, I was tempted to stop at this point. A debate about benzoate? A condiment controversy? Who cares? It is to Gladwell’s credit that he generously rewards those such as I — who continue continue to read the article — by providing some truly interesting information about a subject in which I had little (if any) prior interest.

Those who read his articles in The New Yorker already know that each is a gem. When gathered in one volume, they are a treasure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Decision Paralysis vs. Preference for Variety

I have reached the point where I just need to quit reading.  It is all so confusing.  (This is not the first time I have reached this point…)

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink and the Heath brothers in Switch tell us that we are better off with fewer choices.  Give us too many choices, and we arrive at decision paralysis.

Here are the key quotes from these two books:

From Blink:

If you are given too many choices, if you are forced to consider much more than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralyzed.  Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgments, we have to take steps to protect that frugality.

From Switch:

Decision paralysis.  More options, even good ones, can freeze us and make us retreat to the default plan.  This behavior is clearly not rational, but it is human.

And now this from Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational (via Andrew Sullivan):

Capuchin monkeys like change:
The implications of this simple experiment shed some light on consumer behavior, [Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University] said. Earlier work on variety-seeking has found that people eat 43 percent more M&M candies when there are 10 colors in the bowl instead of just seven. “People choose variety for variety’s sake,” Ariely said. “They often choose things they don’t even like as well just for the variety. We knew about this, so the interesting thing was to figure out how basic it is.”


Ariely is somewhat puzzled that humans can get stuck in a rut and not seek more variety. “Ask yourself: How many new things have you tried lately? Have you tried every cereal in the cereal aisle?” It may be that you’re enjoying a daily bowl of a cereal that you would rate as an 8, when just a few feet away on the shelf there is a cereal you’d rate as a 9, but you’ve never tried it.
Businesses can push variety on customers with assortment packs, Ariely suggests, and vicarious experiences like the Food Network can encourage exploration as well. “How do we get ourselves to explore? Even monkeys do it — so maybe we should also try more variety.”

So – we’re paralyzed by too many choices, and yet we like and want more variety.

I’m confused – again.  It’s the story of my life!

Saturday, March 27, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nobody Knows Anything” – Malcolm Gladwell sweeps through a large swath of the 20th century of American Business in a Tour de Force

Malcolm Gladwell

If you read this blog, you know that I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell.  And as much as I like his books, I equally like his essays (all but the very most recent archived here).

Here are some excerpts from his essay entitled The Risk Pool.  (I re-read this essay after it was linked to in this article by Timothy Noah at  It’s about – everything.  Pensions, health care, technological advances, Peter Drucker…  reading this feels like en education in 20th century business.

Excerpt number one – the dominance of Bethlehem Steel:

“In 1956, Eugene Grace, the head of Bethlehem Steel, was the country’s best- paid executive. Eleven of the country’s eighteen top-earning executives that year, in fact, worked for Bethlehem Steel. In 1955, when the American Iron and Steel Institute had its annual meeting, at the Waldorf-Astoria, in New York, the No. 2 at Bethlehem Steel, Arthur Homer, made a bold forecast: domestic demand for steel, he said, would increase by fifty per cent over the next fifteen years. “As someone has said, the American people are wanters,” he told the audience of twelve hundred industry executives. “Their wants are going to require a great deal of steel.”

Excerpt number two — GM’s President makes a lot of money – and pays a lot in taxes:

The president of General Motors at the time was Charles E. Wilson, known as Engine Charlie. Wilson was one of the highest-paid corporate executives in America, earning $586,100 (and paying, incidentally, $430,350 in taxes).

Excerpt number three — Peter Drucker rightly observes/predicts, confirming Taleb’s (The Black Swan) truism — “nobody knows anything”  (except maybe Drucker):

The most influential management theorist of the twentieth century was Peter Drucker, who, in 1950, wrote an extraordinarily prescient article for Harper’s entitled “The Mirage of Pensions.” It ought to be reprinted for every steelworker, airline mechanic, and autoworker who is worried about his retirement. Drucker simply couldn’t see how the pension plans on the table at companies like G.M. could ever work. “For such a plan to give real security, the financial strength of the company and its economic success must be reasonably secure for the next forty years,” Drucker wrote. “But is there any one company or any one industry whose future can be predicted with certainty for even ten years ahead?” He concluded, “The recent pension plans thus offer no more security against the big bad wolf of old age than the little piggy’s house of straw.”

Here are some “lessons” one might draw from this essay:

1.  There was a time when the rich really did pay higher taxes. And this is from a period when America really flourished.  There may be a connection.

2.  Technology really does endanger worker’s jobs, and change really does endanger the long-term health of companies. Both Bethlehem Steel, and ultimately General Motors, went bankrupt.  There was a time when no one (except Drucker) could have imagined that these behemoths might someday face the end of their reign.

3.  No company is really big enough to take care of the pensions and the health care of all of its workers and retired workers. Because, tomorrow, as is now quite obvious, a company (if it has survived) will likely have a smaller pool of workers.  Here’s another excerpt:

When Bethlehem Steel filed for bankruptcy (in 2001), it owed about four billion dollars to its pension plan, and had another three billion dollars in unmet health-care obligations. Two years later, in 2003, the pension fund was terminated and handed over to the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The assets of the company—Sparrows Point and a handful of other steel mills in the Midwest—were sold to the New York-based investor Wilbur Ross…

4.  The more we know, the more we will be prepared for the next surprise. I have long felt that this simple saying is important to remember:  “the more you know, the more you know.”
And tomorrow will be different from today.  And then the next tomorrow will be even more different.  So, knowing the vast sweep of business struggles and change helps us not be as surprised by the next surprise.

Let me encourage you to read the Gladwell essay.  It will make you think.


(To purchase my synopses of Gladwell’s books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, with audio + handout, go to our companion site,

Thursday, February 4, 2010 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can we Really Blame it on Gladwell?

There’s this great scene in Annie Hall.  Alvy (Woody Allen) overhears this arrogant teacher comment about Marshall McLuhan.  Here’s a condensed version of the scene from the script:

you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan’s work!

Really?  Really?  I happen to teach a class at Columbia called “TV Media and Culture”!  So I think that my insights into Mr. McLuhan-well, have a great deal of

Oh, do yuh?


Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here.

ALVY (To McLuhan)
Tell him.

MCLUHAN (To the man in line)
I heard what you were saying.
You know nothing of my work.
How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.

ALVY  (To the camera)
Boy, if life were only like this!

I thought of this as I read some recent criticism of Malcolm Galdwell.  We now know, from the book Too Big too Fail, that Joe Gregory, former Lehman President, swore by Malcolm Gladwell.  He loved Blink, and “even hired the author to lecture employees on trusting their instincts when making difficult decisions.  In an industry based on analyzing raw data, Gregory was defiantly a gut man.”  (I got this from here).

BlinkHere’s the problem – do we really understand the point of Gladwell’s Blink? Do we understand the point of any writer clearly enough to take some action and say, in essence, “it was his/her (the writer’s) idea.  I have permission from this expert writer to take this step.?”

There is no pure exegesis and interpretation of any writer.  All interpretation is colored and filtered by our own understanding, our own preferences, our own hopes and ideas.  We find a sentence, a paragraph, an idea, and say “Aha.  I knew I was right.”

We seek confirmation of our own thinking.  But, do we really learn anything?

My opinion is that Blink does not give permission to make instant blink decisions out of ignorance.  It is not a “gut decisions are ok” book.  It is that the “gut” that is trained well makes a very wise decision – in an instant.  It depends on the situation, the decision to be made – and the preparation (the life preparation, the intellectual preparation, the life experience preparation)  of the decision maker.

Here’s a quote from Blink:

Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way.  …if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments.  We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.

But this blog post is not about Gladwell.  It is this: do we read honestly, or do we allow our own prejudices to so color our thinking that we seldom actually let the words of a writer sink in and change the way we truly think and act?


To purchase my synopses of the three Gladwell best-sellers, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, with audio + handout, visit our companion web site,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: Outliers

OutliersOutliers: The Story of Success
Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown & Company (2008)

In my opinion, this is Gladwell’s most significant and most valuable book thus far. In it, he demonstrates superior storyteller skills as he discusses several quite different situations that demonstrate that “the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are…[Those who succeed] owe something to parentage and patronage. [They] may look like they did all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot…It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.” Gladwell provides many different versions of “the story of success” involving those who demonstrate what sociologists call “accumulative advantage…Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

Clearly, Gladwell agrees with Geoff Colvin that “talent is overrated.” As does Colvin, he cites the 10,000-Hour Rule (i.e. it takes approximately 10,000 hours of “deliberate,” “deep” practice under strict supervision by an expert to master almost any skill) and suggests that “once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” The success of the various outliers whom Gladwell discusses is not exceptional or mysterious. “It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

I urge you to check out the wealth of resources at these Web sites:

Saturday, August 1, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malcolm Gladwell has a New Article (on the Financial Meltdown) — and People are Already Disagreeing

“It is a great principle in psychiatry that ‘all symptoms are overdetermined.’  This means that they have more than one cause….
I want to scream this from the rooftops:  ‘All symptoms are overdetermined.’”  M. Scott Peck, In Search of Stones

Malcolm Gladwell has a new article out.  Gladwell fans wait for these with great anticipation.  And, as usual, it does not disappoint.  This time, he tackles the financial crisis, and the problems of Wall Street.  His title reveals his view:  COCKSURE: Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence. Here’s his take:

“Since the beginning of the financial crisis, there have been two principal explanations for why so many banks made such disastrous decisions. The first is structural. Regulators did not regulate. Institutions failed to function as they should. Rules and guidelines were either inadequate or ignored. The second explanation is that Wall Street was incompetent, that the traders and investors didn’t know enough, that they made extravagant bets without understanding the consequences. But the first wave of postmortems on the crash suggests a third possibility: that the roots of Wall Street’s crisis were not structural or cognitive so much as they were psychological.”

Gladwell wrestles with the problems of overconfidence:

“Of course, one reason that over-confidence is so difficult to eradicate from expert fields like finance is that, at least some of the time, it’s useful to be overconfident—or, more precisely, sometimes the only way to get out of the problems caused by overconfidence is to be even more overconfident.”

It is a complex issue!

Critics are weighing in quickly.  Conor Friedersdorf, for a vacationing Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Dish (where I was first tipped off to the article), states his opinion in his title: A Cocksure Malcolm Gladwell Gets It Wrong. He argues that the structural explanation has great merit, and Gladwell fails to see such merit.

Elsewhere, the Gawker argues that Gladwell should not reduce it to the psychological explanation only.

I say, they are all right.  Because, there is no one explanation – the causes are overdetermined.  There are multiple causes, all feeding on and reinforcing each other.  And since there are multiple causes, there is no one simple solution.  The simple, easy solutions only work in Hollywood – especially in your typical 30 second commercial  (young man, just spray your body with AXE and the beautiful women will all chase you…)  But in a world as complex as ours, with problems as big as ours, we need all the possible diagnoses, and all the possible cures, we can get.

There have been some pretty good minds at work on this question, so why haven’t they solved it by now?  What did go wrong?  They are seaching for an answer – no, they are searching for the answer.  From the disagreements, we should learn that there is no the answer.  And we should grasp, and understand, and acknowledge our “ignorance.”  It might keep us humble, and help us not be so cocksure to the point of disaster.

There’s a line in the movie Live Free or Die Hard.  The young computer wiz Matt Farrell is astonished at the arrogant ignorance of Bowman, the FBI “expert,”  “The things he does not know,” Farrell says to John McClane.

So it is for all of us – the things we do not know.


• For a terrific article on why Malcolm Gladwell is so good, so valuable, check out:  Why do book clubs love Malcolm Gladwell? He reads deeply and writes clearly, in plain English by Shelley Blanton-Stroud.

• You can order synopses of my presentations for all three Gladwell books, The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyone is Reading it – Are You?

Here’s an interesting little piece of insight — a lot of people claim to have read books that they have not actually read.

Why?  Because, to stay in the “admired/with it” group, they have to appear as with it.  And reading the current hot books, in some circles, especially some business circles, is a way to be and stay with it.

Seth Godin recently captured this in one of his short and tremendously insightful blog posts.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

The reason the New York Times matters isn’t about the delivery of news (it’s old by the time it arrives) or even the analysis (which is often spotty or wrong or banal or biased or boring). No, the reason it matters is because everyone else reads it….  You can change the definition of “everyone” and customize it for your industry or passion, but the fact is, we need to read what everyone else is reading in order to have a sense of being in sync. If it’s in there, it matters, because everyone else read it.

This fact — that we all need to read what everybody is reading in order to keep up with the buzz, “to have a sense of being in sync” – partially explains why the First Friday Book Synopsis (and other book summary entities — there are many!) is so valuable.  We identify most of the “hot” books, and then provide enough of the content to help our participants appear to be with it.  I think Godin is onto something here.  We have to read, or at least be very familiar with, the book — you know, the book everybody is talking about.  In the last few years, that book has been:

The World is Flat


Hot, Flat, and Crowded,


Good to Great








The Tipping Point


The Black Swan


Never Eat Alone


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team



and…  (Yes, I know I’ve missed some…)

What will be next on the “with it” list?  I don’t know, but this I do know — we will choose the next “with it” book for a presentation at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  (We haven’t missed many over the last 11+ years!)

Are you feeling like one of the with it group?

(And, by the way – most of these books are worth reading and knowing about for the useful content in the books, and not just for your reputation).

{To purchase our synopses of most of these books, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site}.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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