We build a simple, but powerful and intuitive, model for when a hockey coach should pull the goalie when trailing. When the model reports that the coaches aren’t doing it nearly early enough, we then ask why, and take away some key lessons for portfolio and risk management, and business in general.
In a special live taping at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Malcolm talks with WorkLife’s Adam Grant about how to avoid doing highly undesirable tasks, what makes an idea interesting, and why Malcolm thinks we shouldn't root for the underdog.
While there was a great conversation here, I was most struck by the incredibly well done and specific nature of the way Gladwell did the embedded advertisement in this episode.
A cardiologist in Minnesota searches through the basement of his childhood home for a missing box of data from a long-ago experiment. What he discovers changes our understanding of the modern American diet — but also teaches us something profound about what really matters when we honor our parents’ legacy.
There’s a little bit of everything here.
McDonald’s used to make the best fast food french fries in the world — until they changed their recipe in 1990. Revisionist History travels to the top food R&D lab in the country to discover what was lost, and why for the past generation we’ve been eating french fries that taste like cardboard.
I love the double entendre “broke my heart”! This does make me curious to try making my own beef tallow french fries.
Revisionist History goes to Nashville to talk with Bobby Braddock, who has written more sad songs than almost anyone else. What is it about music that makes us cry? And what sets country music apart?
Why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn't: A musical interpretation of divided America.
The big idea in this episode that there is a bigger divide in America that falls along musical lines more than political ones is quite intriguing and fits in with my general experience living in South Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, and California. Having been raised by a Catholic family with one parent from the city, another from the countryside, and having lived in many blue/red states surrounded by people of various different musical tastes, I do have to wonder if there isn’t a lot of value in this thesis. It could make an interesting information theoretic political-related question for research. This might be the type of thing that could be teased out with some big data sets from Facebook.
Beauty and authenticity can create a mood. They set the stage, but I think the thing that pushes us over the top into tears is details. We cry when melancholy collides with specificity.
He then goes on into a nice example about the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses:
And specificity is not something that every genre does well.
This reminds me of a great quote in Made to Stick from Mother Theresa about specificity.
Mother Teresa once said, “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
There’s something very interesting about this idea of specificity and its uses in creating both ideas as well as storytelling and creating emotion.
There is one related old country music joke I’m surprised not to have seen mentioned here, possibly for length, tangential appropriateness, or perhaps because it’s so well known most may call it to mind. It plays off of the days of rock and roll when people played records backwards to find hidden (often satanic) messages.
Q: What do you get when you play a country music song backwards?
A: You get your job back, your wife back, your house back, and your dog back.
The episode finally rounds out with:
If you aren’t crying right now I can’t help you…
Thanks Malcolm, I was crying…
Birmingham, 1963. The image of a police dog viciously attacking a young black protester shocks the nation. The picture, taken in the midst of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous marches, might be the most iconic photograph of the civil rights movement. But few have ever bothered to ask the people in the famous photograph what they think happened that day. It’s more complicated than it looks.
What a stunning and unexpected story. I do so love this podcast.
How does friendship influence political power? The story of Winston Churchill’s close friend and confidant — an eccentric scientist named Frederick Lindemann — whose connection to Churchill altered the course of British policy in World War II. And not in a good way.
Several interesting ideas in this episode:
* What unseen influence do friends and advisors have on political leaders? Should this be better disclosed?
* Did Churchill, while trying to stop the atrocity of the Holocaust, cause one of his own in India through inaction and selfishness?
The famine caused in India is not too dissimilar to the havoc and death wreaked in Puerto Rico following the hurricane in late 2017 for which the US Government very likely did not do enough to mitigate the aftermath.
Brown v Board of Education might be the most well-known Supreme Court decision, a major victory in the fight for civil rights. But in Topeka, the city where the case began, the ruling has left a bittersweet legacy. RH hears from the Browns, the family behind the story.
This is a stunning episode with several ideas and thought’s I’d not previously heard or considered. I feel guilty that I’ve been ignorant to some forces in society like these, but I suspect far too many others are as well. Veritas vos liberabit.
The brilliant idea here is that even the romantic view of Brown v. Board of Education many have isn’t really the victory it might have been. Because the continued racism and segregation of the teachers, things may have become even worse! The Supreme Court should and could have done better and the world would have healed a bit quicker.
Sadly we’ve still got similar problems today and they stretch across many other professions including law enforcement. I wonder what we can do to dramatically improve the teacher diversity problem?
Those who appreciated this episode are likely to appreciate this recent episode of The Daily’s podcast: Racism’s Punishing Reach which has several examples that underline the importance of teachers and provides some studies that just weren’t available at the time of Brown v. Board.
I hope to circle back and create a playlist of some of the more interesting things I’ve heard in the last year on the history of race and racism in the United States. This would certainly fit into that list.
In the middle of Los Angeles — a city with some of the most expensive real estate in the world — there are a half a dozen exclusive golf courses, massive expanses dedicated to the pleasure of a privileged few. How do private country clubs afford the property tax on 300 acres of prime Beverly Hills real estate? RH brings in tax assessors, economists, and philosophers to probe the question of the weird obsession among the wealthy with the game of golf.
ReferencesFORE! AN ANALYSIS OF CEO SHIRKING PDF 2.1MB
I wouldn’t say that I “hate” golf more now, but I do think that the structure holding the system up is way worse than I did before. It’s truly deplorable that the system is propping up courses in Los Angeles like this. The statistics explored here are truly painful. I love that someone has delved into open statistics to come up with the ideas underpinning this episode.
I knew that prop 13 was destroying California slowly but surely, but some of the smaller subsections are even more egregious.
Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell's journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time. From Panoply Media. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.
In the political turmoil of mid-1990s Britain, a brilliant young comic named Harry Enfield set out to satirize the ideology and politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His parodies became famous. He wrote and performed a vicious sendup of the typical Thatcherite nouveau riche buffoon. People loved it. And what happened? Exactly the opposite of what Enfield hoped would happen. In an age dominated by political comedy, “The Satire Paradox” asks whether laughter and social protest are friends or foes.
An interesting dissection of satire and the effects it does (or doesn’t) have on society. Sadly, a lot of the best biting satire doesn’t have the effect that many of us would like it to have. How can we subtly change this to create more desirous effects? I’d like to delve more deeply into the paper he references.1 [pdf]
Some of this reminds me of the ideas relating to doublespeak that I’ve written about in the past, but here, it’s actually comprehensible and understandable.
A pastor officiates at the wedding of his son—under ordinary circumstances, an affirmation of family and community. But what if the son is gay? And what if the pastor belongs to the most traditional of religious communities?
“Generous Orthodoxy” is the story of Chester Wenger, a 98-year-old Mennonite minister who chose to confront his own church over a question of deepest principle. It asks: What do you do when the institution that has defined your life comes between you and your family? Wenger offers all of us a master class in the art of dissent.
Generous orthodoxy is a truly intriguing idea.
I like the example he also provides regarding Princeton University and Woodrow Wilson, whose reputation is now waning in comparison to where it was just a few decades ago. I suspect that Gladwell’s protest idea would have worked much better, particularly in light of the recent 60 Minutes segment I saw recently: ‘60 Minutes’ features Princeton’s transformative efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity
In the summer and fall of 2009, hundreds of Toyota owners came forward with an alarming allegation: Their cars were suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating. Toyota was forced to recall 10 million vehicles, pay a fine of more than $1 billion, and settle countless lawsuits. The consensus was that there was something badly wrong with the world’s most popular cars. Except that there wasn’t.
“Blame Game” looks under the hood at one of the strangest public hysterias in recent memory. What really happened in all those Camrys and Lexuses? And how did so many drivers come to misunderstand so profoundly what was happening to them behind the wheel? The answer touches on our increasingly fraught relationship to technology and the dishonesty and naiveté of many in the media.
Billions of dollars lost and still the most important moral of the story (actually put your foot on the brake) isn’t known at all.
In 1984, Elvis Costello released what he would say later was his worst record: Goodbye Cruel World. Among the most discordant songs on the album was the forgettable “The Deportees Club.” But then, years later, Costello went back and re-recorded it as “Deportee,” and today it stands as one of his most sublime achievements.
“Hallelujah” is about the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius, and how some of the most memorable works of art had modest and undistinguished births.
And here I thought I knew a lot about the story of Hallelujah. I haven’t read any of the books on its history, nor written any myself, but this short story does have a good bit I’ve not heard before in the past. I did read quite a bit when Cohen passed away, and even spent some time making a Spotify playlist with over five hours of covers.
The bigger idea here of immediate genius versus “slow cooked” genius is the fun one to contemplate. I’ve previously heard stories about Mozart’s composing involved his working things out in his head and then later putting them on paper much the same way that a “cow pees” (i.e. all in one quick go or a fast flood.)
Another interesting thing I find here is the insanely small probability that the chain of events that makes the song popular actually happens. It seems worthwhile to look at the statistical mechanics of the production of genius. Perhaps applying Ridley’s concepts of “Ideas having sex” and Dawkin’s “meme theory” (aka selfish gene) could be interestingly useful. What does the state space of genius look like?
In the early ’90s, Hank Rowan gave $100 million to a university in New Jersey, an act of extraordinary generosity that helped launch the greatest explosion in educational philanthropy since the days of Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers. But Rowan gave his money to Glassboro State University, a tiny, almost bankrupt school in South Jersey, while almost all of the philanthropists who followed his lead made their donations to elite schools such as Harvard and Yale. Why did no one follow Rowan’s example?
“My Little Hundred Million” is the third part of Revisionist History’s educational miniseries. It looks at the hidden ideologies behind giving and how a strange set of ideas has hijacked educational philanthropy.
The key idea laid out stunningly here is strong links versus weak links.
I’m generally flabbergasted by the general idea proposed here and will have to do some more research in the near future to play around further with the ideas presented. Fortunately, in addition to the education specific idea presented, Gladwell also comes up with an additional few examples in sports by using the differences between soccer and basketball to show the subtle differences.
If he and his lab aren’t aware of the general concept, I would recommend this particular podcast and the concept of strong and weak links to César Hidalgo (t) who might actually have some troves of economics data to use to play around with some general modeling to expand upon these ideas. I’ve been generally enamored of Hidalgo’s general thesis about the overall value of links as expressed in Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies1. I often think of it with relation to political economies and how the current administration seems to be (often quietly) destroying large amounts of value by breaking down a variety of economic, social, and political links within the United States as well as between our country and others.
I wonder if the additional ideas about the differences between strong and weak links might further improve these broader ideas. The general ideas behind statistical mechanics and statistics make me think that Gladwell, like Hidalgo, is certainly onto a strong idea which can be continued to be refined to improve billions of lives. I’ll have to start some literature searches now…