Malcolm Gladwell warns of the danger of knowing too much
By Bryan Weismiller
There are some people who may have gone home a little humbled after hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak March 10.
Standing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, the bestselling author talked about the dangers of “expert failure,” and the consequences for believing in “perfect information.”
“Giving people extra bits of information doesn’t improve their chances of getting a right diagnosis,” Gladwell said. “It improves their belief in the accuracy of their own diagnosis.”
Gladwell used the American Civil War and the recent financial collapse on Wall Street as examples of expert failure. He drew an important distinction between mistakes due to miscalibration: the overconfidence of experts, and incompetence: not knowing enough.
Despite the complexity of the subject, Gladwell did a good job communicating his ideas, which is something his writing is often praised for. In fact, many people commented his speech felt remarkably similar to his books.
Several members of the Mount Royal University community attended the event, including Rob Jones, president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University.
“I think it summed up Mount Royal in terms of our place in the academic community,” Jones said. “Some naysayers out there are pointing out what Mount Royal is doing that’s not right, and our humble belief is that we are correct.
“Saying that our belief is incorrect is, perhaps, ‘miscaliberated’ as Malcolm put it tonight.”
University president Dave Marshall also attended the event and said Gladwell’s ideas fit the school’s culture.
“Malcolm Gladwell is fabulous for our students because his message is that ideas are important,” Marshall said. “If you have an idea — stretch it, take it, twist it, turn it, look at it from a different angle.
“Ideas are what make the world go around and that’s what he does. He takes those ideas and works with them, and that’s what our students should do with every single class their in.”
Gladwell spoke for about an hour before turning over the floor for a question-and-answer period. He fielded several questions from audience members before Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi took to the stage.
“Wow, have all your minds truly been blown? Asked Nenshi. “I certainly know mine has.”
Nenshi went on to perform a white-hatting ceremony, which he said would make Gladwell an honourary Calgarian. Gladwell looked visibly terrified during the affair, but played along and repeated the white-hatting oath.
“Normally, we don’t make the dignitaries do that, but come on, I had to hear Malcolm Gladwell say it,” Nenshi said.
The event was part of Mount Royal’s Legacy of Ideas series. It’s intended to expose people to new ideas and new ways of thinking. World-renowned graffiti artists, environmentalists and journalists have all spoken as part of the series.
Gladwell said his work starts from a desire to entertain and engage people.
I just want to start conversations, that’s all I really want to do,” Gladwell said. “If I can do that then I feel like I’ve succeeded.”