I first ran across What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell while killing time in a bookstore. The one chapter I read there convinced me I needed to read the whole book. Gladwell does an excellent job in taking a topic, looking at the conventional wisdom surrounding it, and turning the subject matter on its head to view it in a different light. Gladwell spends more time thinking about things than the average person, and he comes up with insights and slants that make for great reading and hours of thought. This book is a series of his essays over the last 15 or so years, and it's interesting to see how well they've stood up over time.
Contents: Part 1: Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius: The Pitchman; The Ketchup Conundrum; Blowing Up; True Colors; John Rock's Error; What the Dog Saw Part 2: Theories, Predictions, and Diagnosis: Open Secrets; Million-Dollar Murray; The Picture Problem; Something Borrowed; Connecting the Dots; The Art of Failure; Blowup Part 3: Personality, Character, and Intelligence: Late Bloomers; Most Likely to Succeed; Dangerous Minds; The Talent Myth; The New-Boy Network; Troublemakers
Having worked at Enron at the time they imploded, I was obviously intrigued by the essays that used Enron as a prime example. Open Secrets talks about how all the information about Enron's lack of actual cash flow was there for anyone to find. The problem is that the information was so voluminous and detailed that you had to dig and work hard to understand it. As such, it could be said that Enron didn't hide anything. They were able to obscure it in such a way that few could find it. That same issue applies to many situations in life. More data does not always equal more information. The other interesting essay along those lines is The Talent Myth. Enron sought out highly intelligent individuals and rewarded them well beyond expectations. They were often allowed to do and create things that had no corporate backing, but they felt the project was "interesting." While some of those worked out well, others failed dramatically. What's even more astounding is that once these people were labeled as "talented", their failures didn't seem to matter any longer. Failures were simply aggressive moves that showed initiative, and they were then promoted to a higher position (often repeating the same failure there). Smart does not always equal successful.
Another one I found interesting was the story of John Rock, the inventor of the birth control pill. A staunch Catholic, his creation of the pill put him in direct opposition to church teaching. But as Gladwell shows, the pill might have been accepted without reservation had Rock understood women's health. Studies have shown that "modern culture" subjects a woman to many more periods than what is normal in primitive cultures. This also equates to higher rates of breast and ovarian cancer. One strong line of reasoning is that all the cell divisions that occur during ovulation increase the chance that an abnormal cell division grows out of control (cancer). Since the pill can eliminate the period much like pregnancy and breast feeding did, the pill can be categorized as a way to prevent cancer, with birth control being a by-product of the process and as such not condemned by the church. That's definitely a different way to think about the pill.
What The Dog Saw isn't a book you need to plow through all at once. Each chapter is a different topic, and you can stop there and think through the implications of what Gladwell put forth. There were very few chapters in here that didn't have at least one unique slant or unique insight that caused me to reconsider the ways I thought about a topic. This is a book well worth reading.
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.