Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

Trust Not The Eyes, For They May Not See.

Simple beauty

This is a pretty special time of year for me. Part of it has to do with the vigorous shaking off of the chill of Winter and opening my arms wide to pull Spring into my sweet, loving embrace. Come to me baby… come to me. That’s only part of my fond feelings for this mid-March period. The bigger piece is that Little League baseball coaching is again on the horizon and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The process kicks off the same each season: a bunch of well-meaning coaches spend the better part of a weekend in a middle school gym rating 8-12 year olds on their ability to field, throw, pitch and hit. It’s a bit of a circus every time, but I think that’s half the fun of it. Just kind of reveling in the mayhem of it all and catching up with the other coaches I haven’t seen in a while.

But my favorite part of the entire evaluation process isn’t just hanging out and joking around with the kids as they come through my station (which was hitting this year). Actually, my favorite part is when I find out I’m completely, utterly and totally wrong. No, really.

As each kid walks up to your station, there are only so many I actually know from years past. Because of this, I tend not to know anything about the baseball abilities of most players until they begin their drills with me. And you know what happens as they walk up? There is that flickering moment in the mind where every coach tries to guess how this kid will be. It’s something we do in all aspects of life, right? Heck, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about these kinds of snap judgments in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Nothing unusual in this and really nothing controversial because no one with any sense in their noggin would make a determination just based on a first impression of a kid walking into the gym. That would just be flat out stupid.

But some kids roll in with a lot of confidence and swagger. They have a snazzy and expensive bat, snappy batting gloves and are sporting an all-star shirt from the previous year. Some kids come in a bit tentative and nervous – these are the kids I try to put at ease as quickly as possible because… well…. I was that kid at that age when it came to baseball and sports. I bloomed late athletically.

Then some kids don’t fit the part of a baseball player at all. They aren’t wearing anything you would see a kid put on to play any sport, go to gym class and so on. Heck, they may be wearing an outfit that looks like something they would wear to the mall or the movies. They walk into the station, look through the bucket of bats available for anyone who didn’t bring one and then step up to the tee to take a few swings.

And that’s when some real magic happens and I am reminded again to never, ever, EVER assume anything on a kid before seeing him do his or her thing. I absolutely love it when the kids who “don’t fit” whatever preconceived notion there may be for a youth baseball player come in and smash the bejeezus out of every ball they see. It puts the biggest smile on my face and I revel in the fact that, if I had any guess to the contrary, I have just been shown to be 100% wrong.

It’s so great to see the kids who defy conventions of any kind… who don’t fit the idea of how they are “supposed” to be, whether in baseball or school or any other activity. The kids who just love something and it shows. Heck, my favorite players to coach aren’t necessarily the superstars with the amazing physical gifts. I have such a great time working with kids who just love to be on baseball field and playing a game. That’s all it takes to win me over.

So trust not the eyes, for they may not see… at least not at first. Break those biases down. Strip them from your thoughts when they rear up. And if you have any moments where you catch your assumptions being shown to be misguided? Cherish them. Because that’s where the real fun starts.

Seeing More and Understanding Less

mtg_bw

If you know me well, you would know I am a big fan of the writing of Malcolm  Gladwell.  He just has a knack for writing about topics that endlessly fascinate me, even if I never thought about many of them ever before.  Today I was sitting contentedly at Five Guys snarfing down some cheeseburger deliciousness and reading Gladwell’s latest book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures.  This differs from his other books in that it is a collection of his writings for the New Yorker.

There is a particularly good chapter that is about how we advance in technological imaging (from GPS-guided bombs to MRI/mammography machines), but these advances do not always equate into clearer understanding.  It’s the notion that just because you have a better way of taking pictures does not fully correlate into better understanding what is in those pictures.

The example in question that struck me today was about radiologists who are trying to find malignant tumors as part of mammograms.  We are continuously developing better imaging technology that shows more on the scans… but this does not necessarily mean the radiologists are simply able to better find the cancer.  This is most notable in cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) which is extremely tricky to pick up on a scan.  The line that struck me was as follows:

Would taking a better picture solve the problem?  Not really, because the problem is that we don’t know for sure what we’re seeing, and as pictures have become better we have put ourselves in a position where we see more and more things that we don’t know how to interpret.

That last line is the one that stopped me mid-bite of my burger… umm, which if you know me, you know is a big deal.  I love me some cheeseburger, people.  Love it.  That’s an incredibly profound observation – we have put ourselves in a position where we see more and more things we don’t know how to interpret.

Isn’t that where we are finding ourselves more and more these days generally?  It’s not just the highly-skilled radiologists who face more and more data they can do less and less with.  Our modern world and the “Information Age” puts massive amount of information at our fingertips, but even the mighty Google cannot always come to the rescue to give us only what we need when we need it.  Or maybe Google can find us data we need, but even that is so voluminous that it’s difficult to make something meaningful out of it.

What I wonder if this – Have we reached a point in society where the rate of data/information collection is increasing at a rate beyond what we can make use of?  Personally, it feels that way to me.  I think this is less about some kind of limitations of the human mind to sort complex data as much as having the time or tools to whittle down the increasing mountains of information at our disposal.  Admittedly, I have a very high opinion on the potential of the human brain, so I am naturally going to lean towards believing the mind can handle a ton, but there does need to be something manageable from which to work.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this?  I think simply that it’s dangerous to put too much faith in the arrogance of more information.  Without step-change increases in how to work through that information, all you are doing is burying yourself in heaps of confusion.  It’s an important lesson for all of us in Corporate America for sure where data is king and decisions are rarely (if ever) made on “gut feel”.  We must stay vigilant to avoid the cockiness or, dare I even say, hubris that can come from thinking that we know everything because we have more to sift through.

The other takeaway?  Good cheeseburgers combined with good books sometimes equals a (hopefully) good piece of blogging… but I leave that up to you.