Friday, February 04, 2005

Lessons from Malcolm Gladwell's Blink talk - 1/2

I took advanage of the opportunity to participate in a "meet the author" event at the Philadelphia Free Library when it hosted Malcolm Gladwell.

Here are four lessons I learned from his presentation:

  1. People are unaware of our biases. We all have blind spots. Becoming aware of them on your own is like a fish pondering a bicycle ride.
  2. Snap judgements happen fast. This isn't just a clever witicism. Consider the study where two groups evaluated the effectiveness of a college instructor. Group A evaluated the professor at the end of the term. Group B in one version only spent an hour listening to single lecture. Turns out the evaluations between the groups were quite similar. Now, the variations become interesting: Group B only gets a 1 hour video of the instructor -- essentially same evaluations; when Group B only got 10 minutes of video, it turned in essentially the same evals; when Group B got only 10 seconds of the lecture, yes, essential the same evaluation; and then, finally, when the sound was removed and only 10 seconds of a visual was presented, the same essential evals were scored. Wow!
  3. Sometimes it's important to exclude data to make better evaluations. Gladwell is a big fan of screens to remove visual data because of the overwhelming bias it creates. When asked how he would structure presidential campaigns to remove extraneous influences, he said he'd want the candidates to be hidden from public view for the year prior to elections, and only issue written or accent-neutralized audio speeches.
  4. Changing the environment changes solves the problem now! Admitting bias is hard; removing its influence by changing the environment is considerably easier and more expedient.

Here's a link to his worthwhile book:

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