Most businesses and industries are built for solving puzzles, not mysteries. Malcolm Gladwell defines a puzzle as a relatively straight forward problem to solve. During the Cuban missile crisis, for example, the US had a puzzle to solve. There were all these nuclear missiles pointed at the US. Determining what we needed to do in order to stop Cuba from pointing those missiles at us was tantamount to solving a puzzle.
Contrast the Cuban missile crisis with the mystery of today's war on terror. We know that there are terrorists out there that want to harm the US, but this is not a specific country, nor even a well-defined group, so much as a constant threat. There are all sorts of data to sift through to solve the mystery and identify who is likely to attack us where and when.
This week at LinkedIn Sales Connect, Malcolm Gladwell gave several examples as to why there are very few clearly defined puzzles businesses still need to solve. Instead, we have many complex mysteries that require a different kind of thinking and analytical skills that most organizations are not set up to solve. I had a chance to sit down with Malcolm Gladwell after his keynote speech and was able to ask him a few pertinent questions:
Being More Disciplined About Ranking Data In Terms of Its Value
One of the biggest mistakes businesses make is treating all data equally. With the sea of data that is available to you today a common trap is to treat it all the same by giving it equal weight. This idea gets back to Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise concept. Some data will tell you precisely what you need to know and help you solve the mystery you're after, but most data is noise distracting you from the answers you seek. Today, the trick is not analyzing the data so much as understanding which data represents the signal you pay attention to versus the data that is the noise you must ignore.
When hiring talent, for example, Malcolm Gladwell has asked that his candidates remove their college or university degree from their resumes before submitting it to him. That's because he doesn't care which institution gave you the degree, as much as what you've done with the education and how you applied the knowledge you've received. That, he believes, will help him select much better candidates who are qualified to perform the tasks he'd like them to accomplish.
"We have to start ranking data in terms of its value," said Malcolm Gladwell in our interview. "The intuitive human move is to treat all data points as roughly equal. The hardest thing to do is to be more calibrated in how we assess the importance of bits [of data]."
Spending Time In Libraries
When I asked Malcolm Gladwell where he gets the information he uses for his stories in The New Yorker and for researching his books and podcasts, he referenced the fact that he still spends a lot of time in libraries. "There's still a lot of useful information that is not easily found on the Internet," he says. "Some things are easy to find there and some things are hard to find. So I think it's important to have a variety of different old and new school approaches [to finding information]. And it's important to have regular conversations with people outside your own world. That's the only way you're ever going to really uncover anything new or valuable."
How Malcolm Gladwell Determines Topics Worthy of a Book
With all the wealth of data available to him, I was curious as to how Malcolm Gladwell determines which stories he decides to capture as an article or podcast versus dedicating the kind of time that is required to write a book. "If you think about something for six months and you're not bored," says Malcolm Gladwell, "then it's probably a good book. If you run out of things to think about after six months, it's probably an article."
New and Interesting Ways to Connect With Audiences
In a recent Adweek article, Malcolm Gladwell discussed why he launched his podcast, Revisionist History. I wanted to dig a little deeper so I asked him to expand on what he discovered having launched this podcast (which is now in season two) that he wasn't expecting.
"What I did expect, but wasn't realizing the magnitude of it was just how generationally skewed podcasts are," he said. "The bulk of the audience seems to be under thirty, which is kind of fantastic and a little bit unexpected. The other thing was something I discovered which actors and performers have known for a long time, which is when you're dealing with your voice, you can reach people's emotions in a way that you can't with the printed word. And that was a real revelation. The balance between the intellect and the heart shifts when you're speaking to people."
This is so true. Podcasts allow you to have a much more emotional connection with your audience. So if you want to go deeper with your audience, consider how you can connect with them emotionally. The written word is powerful for the intellect (i.e. logical reasons to believe), but we know that people buy on emotion and backfill with logic. Podcasts, radio, video and television all have the emotional pull that endears you to the very people you are looking to serve.
Solving More Mysteries at LinkedIn Sales Connect
I enjoyed listening to Malcolm Gladwell's keynote and many other power speakers at LinkedIn Sales Connect this week. When I first heard of the conference, I must admit I assumed it was more of a user group focused on getting maximum benefit out of LinkedIn's platform. And while there certainly was some of that, the bulk of the conference was focused on delivering outstanding education so that you could be a better sales person.
Who better to learn how to give presentations from than Chris Anderson, curator of TED Conferences? He just launched his new book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. I learned a ton from Chris Anderson, but that's an article for another day.
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