Monday, August 23, 2021

THE TIPPING POINT By Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

Adventure of Discovery of the Minds of Others.  Reading Malcolm Gladwell is to be in the presence of a great mind, a great heart, and a great spirit.  He goes beyond the intellectual stimulation for which he is so rightly famous, and shows real sensitivity to the human condition.  I feel that Malcolm Gladwell cares about what I do with the insights he has given me.  The insights themselves are a treat.  The caring on top of that is surprising and delightful.

I would feel presumptuous in the extreme to write a book review of any of  Malcom Gladwell's works.  I would feel wholly inadequate to do a book report on any of his works.  Instead, my attempt is to make notes on my experience of the adventure of discovery of the minds of others.  In so doing, it is my hope to honor Mr. Gladwell by showing just how much his work made me think, feel, and get more in touch with my humanity.

Mr. Gladwell wanted to be a lawyer.  He would have been an excellent lawyer (but it would have been a waste in the same way Eddie Redmayne becoming a lawyer would have been a waste).  Understanding the view from the other side of the table is vital to lawyering.  Getting into the mind of the opposing party, and opposing counsel, and understanding how they think and perceive the situation is an invaluable skill.  Mr. Gladwell celebrates that skill.  He is a master at play with that skill.  It is beautiful to watch.


Finality.  When is there no turning back?  In sports there are referees and reviews and acceptance even if disagreement about the call remains.  Acceptance of incarceration of innocent people should never be accepted.  What is the tipping point for the finality of criminal judgments?  If preserving the systems means innocent people spend decades in prison or are executed, then that is not a system worth preserving.

Connectors. The Law of the Few.  The idea is that people who have a lot of acquaintances matter to to society.  That is why so many companies attempt to capitalize on "influencers."  My wife is an Elite Yelper.  I am her plus one at gatherings in which business attempt to make a favorable impression on people who are known for writing insightful Yelp reviews that people read and respond to.  

It is not a secret that most jobs are obtained via word of mouth.  What is interesting is the high percentage of job connections that come from acquaintances rather than even casual friends.

At North Central High School in Spokane, Washington a classmate I barely knew told me that he was moving on from his part-time job at The Outdoor Press (A fishing and hunting publication) and that I should apply.  I was the Editor of the school newspaper (because a friend was on the staff and he said he wanted me to join).  When I did the "interview" I learned that the Publisher was on the North Central News staff when he was in high school, had read what I had written and already decided to hire me.  I worked there for 4-1/2 years, all through college.

Also in high school, someone told me that she was auditioning for a play after school and that I should too.  I ended up getting the part and being in two more plays at Civic Theater after graduation.

At Gonzaga Law School, a third year student I did not know told me that he was ending a internship that was a great experience and that I should apply.  I did and it ended up being one of the richest most transformative experiences of Law School.

Someone told me that one of the best ways not to feel down was to volunteer.  I volunteered at Consumer Credit Counseling Center for 3 years and ended up working there before Law School.

I also volunteered for Americorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) in a Welfare to Work program during the Clinton Administration.  Americorps had an education award at the end that I used to get a Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga.  As electives, I got to take UCC9 and Bankruptcy in the law school even though they were 2nd year law school courses.  The professor told me that grading was by number, so he wouldn't know who I was, and I could fail.  I studied really hard and got a B minus.  This was more meaningful to me than any A I ever received.

Mavens.  These are people who just have to share their knowledge.  Sharing is it's own reward.  I helped a couple of people file bankruptcies before law school.  I helped people with debt and taxes and getting a GED.  I would help people navigate their way through the legal and financial system for free if I could.  I could relate to Ashton Kutcher when he said that he makes the movies for free, what they are paying him for is promotion of the movies.

Sales Persons.  I am a terrible sales person.  When I travel around the Country I see an Edward Jones in every small town.  I can't help but think that if you made a graph of returns of the very low load S&P500 Index Fund and the proprietary Edward Jones Funds with their higher load included, you would likely see that most of the funds are not beating the S&P500 Index Fund by more than the additional load.  Yet, they are everywhere because of sales people.

Studies have shown that black males in particular are quoted higher prices than white males.  A successful sales person in Chicago is aware of this and deliberately quotes everyone the same starting price for a particular vehicle, and assumes that everyone has an equal chance of buying a vehicle.  The result is that about a third of sales come from referrals.  Unconscious bias is still there, but disciplined practices minimize interference.

As a lawyer, I struggle with what to charge (that is one reason why I like legal insurance so much).  I don't understand why some lawyers are so arrogant.  A lot of what lawyers do isn't worth very much.  Some of the most lucrative activities of lawyers (such as Personal Injury) are in areas in which other countries like Sweden that do not have a PI industry at all have just as safe a society as ours at a tiny fraction of the cost.

Context.  In the 1980's I saw a shopkeeper picking up crack vials with a snow shovel in Hell's Kitchen.  Human behavior can be dramatically impacted by environmental factors such as graffiti, panhandling, and subway fare jumping.  That is what New York City discovered before Rudy Giuliani slid into cartoonishness.

The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is the mistake of thinking that character is unified and all encompassing rather than understanding that character is situation dependent to large degree.  Physical space and how it is organized matters.

Stickiness.  This refers to the lasting quality of messages.  Tone and resonance are elusive.  How do we make the meaning of what we say memorable?

Groups 150 seems to be the number of working relationships that above which quality of connection deteriorates.  Successful companies have divided themselves up into such groups with Connectors between the groups such that some people are members of two groups.  Mental space and how it is organized matters.  It may even be the case that the human brain developed the way it did in response to the value of cooperation and living in relationship with others.

Almost Getting Mugged on the Subway.  Years ago in Manhattan a man threatened to rob me on the subway.  I was so scared that I didn't know what to do, so I pulled the red cord that was hanging above me.  It turns out that this was the brake and that someone has to come back to the car in order to release it so the train can move again.  I did not know that, but it turns out that was the express way of getting to the tipping point of preventing the robbery.  Most tipping points are much slower (like climate change for example).  If we understand concepts like the idea that after about $75,000 per year, the law of diminishing returns sets in with more income and eventually more income becomes negative for quality of life.  Why do we keep going with more of the same when the results are so much different between $55,000 and $75,000 and $75,000 and $95,000 for example?

ConclusionChange, like cruelty, often happens suddenly and all at once, but has a long buildup prior to happening.  Understanding the buildups better can make disappointing surprises less frequent.  We can also attempt to create the breaking points for change that are convenient and beneficial for society.  This seems especially important when allocating taxpayer funds.  There is a funding allocation under which the desired results will not occur, a point where they will, and a point after the tip when additional spending makes little difference.  Billions could be saved and society much improved by continually refining our understanding of the concept of the tipping points for various desired changes in society.

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