Thursday, May 1, 2008

My Latest (Disappointing) Book Reviews - Blink and The Tipping Point

Yea, I don't know why I continue to torture myself and read business books even though they tend to provide me with very little value. I was a bit pressured into reading these next two - which I guess I'll use as my excuse. One of our contractors kept referring me to The Tipping Point, and I finally caved... (which is probably a good argument for a "tipping point" as referred to in the book). The other, I actually read first, but it was a similar story - I kept hearing people talk about it and it sat on my shelf for months. It kept staring at me, asking to be read. So I finally obliged. It was Blink.

These two books were written by Malcom Gladwell. He's obviously a bright dude and his story telling is pretty good. But I think he needs a muzzle or a filter to prevent him from having to describe 40 different situations to get his point across. Or maybe that's his editor's job.

I'll start with Blink, because I actually thought it was decent, and it was my first read of the two. The main idea in Blink is the idea of "thin slicing" or making snap decisions without really thinking too hard or too long about the situation. Actually, it's a decision made within seconds, on the little (thin) pieces of information you have. I'm sure you've all experienced this. Maybe you made a decision and didn't really know why you came to that conclusion? Even think about taking a test - you have a hunch on a question that you don't really know or think you know. And it's more often correct than if you tried to actually reason through the solution? Gladwell dissects this notion and explains how it comes to be, how our mind can interpret patterns relatively quickly from these "thin slices" of information. The examples he uses are entertaining and interesting. Which is what kept me reading the book. For example, there was an art curator who just knew this statue was fake, but he couldn't tell you why he knew. Most of the other people who went through rigorous research in painstaking detail actually thought it was real and spent millions purchasing it. It turned out to be a fake.

In the end though, Gladwell didn't have a conclusion or any method for improving the way we do this in real life. It came off more as a "sometimes this works, sometimes this doesn't" - and here are some curious stories. So go into this knowing what you're getting.

As for The Tipping Point, I won't be so kind. This book started off promising. And from what people had said, it was the better book of the two. I can't disagree more - but that probably has something to do with the order in which I read them. While the opening story was good - about Bernie Goetz and his subway vigilante story, that's where my interest peaked. It was a succession of stories, each one less interesting than the last, trying to explain The Tipping Point. What is the tipping point? Glad you asked - it's really the thought that as momentum builds there becomes a point where something peaks, and then crashes. Think of a wave. The tipping point is the moment in time when the crest of the wave begins crashing onto the shore. He relates this effect to different situations - crime gets so bad that finally it starts getting better. A business builds slowly and then it finally takes off. Shit, isn't that obvious? And guess what? Sometimes it doesn't happen. In the spirit of Blink, I "thin sliced", and realized from the first few chapters what the rest of the book was about. A combination of stories that didn't tell you anything more than the obvious and didn't have a worthwhile conclusion. I tried on 3 different occasions to pick this book back up to finish it just so I could write something about it. I couldn't do it. Don't waste your time.

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