Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Malcolm Gladwell, Mysteries and Puzzles, and General Tao

A lot of people like Malcolm Gladwell. He's written a couple of interesting books, as well as a mountain of magazine pieces. This is a good example. It's an interesting article, ostensibly about Enron but also about some sort of distinction between mysteries and puzzles. It's pretty entertaining, and chocked full of interesting anecdotes. But I think it just confirms what I suspected when I read Blink last spring (I read it cover to cover on a flight from Liverpool to Seville, so thankfully I didn't invest too much in it). Gladwell is taken by interesting theories from the social and physical sciences (in Blink it was the idea of heuristics and preconscious information processing), but not seriously enough to actually test them. Rather, he just fits evidence to them, and when that doesn't work, he just plays around with the definitions. It's actually quite unsatisfying. Unfortunately, his anecdotes are interesting enough that I get sucked in. It's like General Tao chicken: it's always a better idea at the start than at the end.

No comments: