Saturday, December 14, 2013

Malcolm Gladwell's Next Book

I finished David & Goliath, a couple of days ago. This isn't a review.

I'm currently reading Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb a former subject of one of Malcolm Gladwell's articles in the New Yorker. I bring NNT up, because on a page I read this morning he talked about how professional journalists took his book 'Fooled By Randomness' and misrepresented his message.

I think David & Goliath is an important follow up to Outliers, because I think heaps of people read outliers and came away with the incredibly stupid '10,000 hour' rule. Again I don't know if NNT will comment on this in his upcoming chapters on the fragilistas, but it's the kind of thing fragilistas will misconstrue and trumpet on about.

I hate the '10,000 hour rule'. Not the rule itself, but the phrase. Short distinct and memorable, as opposed to the less memorable qualifier, that those who followed it - loved what they did. Loved what they did so much as to pursue 10,000 hours without really evaluating the probabilities of success or costs of failure. Gates to Gretzky they didn't so much as do the 10,000 hours but were availed both the disposition and opportunities to get 10,000 hours.

What I imagine, is Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother's everywhere pointing at a copy of Outliers and saying 'now stop playing and go practice violin!' then under their breath 'waste of motherfucken time...' or in other words, the 10,000 hour rule as misconstrued is employed as license for child abuse everywhere.

I don't like it. Paradoxically, I'm going to call the 10,000 hour rule lazy. It's just plain lazy to believe you can work hard and you will be absolved of risks and yet somehow the world will reward you for it.

So David and Goliath is a nice frustrater for fans of Outliers. Outliers though is a truly excellent book, as was Blink and the Tipping Point. David & Goliath is perhaps that first 'difficult second album' to the mega-hit of Outliers. I think it won't sell as well, won't be talked about as much and thus, a naive 10,000 hour rule will persist. Because Tiger Mother's can make their kids do 10,000 hours of violin practice but they can't make their child a dyslexic options trader, or trial lawyer. Hopefully though, the very notion that their child is not encountering enough adversity will frustrate their natural inclination to try and insulate them from all adversity.

So Gladwell's next book? What's it going to be? I have no fucken idea. But I think he like NNT (unashamedly) and Michael Lewis (unashamedly) are writing about markets as a consistent theme. And I think he touched on a viable theme to actually continue a thought into a whole new book - the full court press.

He simply asks why the full court press hasn't caught on, after it got an inexperienced coach to the national finals in his first season coaching a junior girls basketball team.

So you have the tipping point, about the spread of ideas, and then you have this story in David & Goliath and you have this interesting question of why some viable, proven, good ideas don't spread.

I just assert, with no evidence, (and no real understanding of how NNT's fat-tail investment approach really works) that as the world becomes increasingly globalised (flat world thinking) the more effective contrarian strategies will be.

Contrarian strategies are simply strategies that assume the majority can be wrong, they bet against the momentum of the market waiting for a correction they feel are inevitable. I don't know any unashamed examples, and despite Buffett saying 'our strategy is to be fearful when the market is greedy and greedy when the market is fearful.' and some such, and being a student of Benjamin Graham's 'Mr. Market' he denies he is a contrarian.

So I don't know if  being contrarian strictly means you are mechanically contrarian 'I must assume the contrary position' as John Cleese might say, a reflexive 'no it isn't' strategy. Or whether one can set about trying to make intelligent bets, and wind up being contrarian due to the collective stupidity. A de facto contrarian maybe.

Gladwell, could do a book about why good ideas don't prevail. I guess in a way NNT has done 4 books about why good ideas don't prevail. Michael Lewis kind of does the David & Goliath stories, which explain how good ideas can prevail (Money Ball & The Blind Side) but he hasn't really looked into why the bad ideas are so prevalent to begin with... ah... I can't make that call, I actually haven't read any of Michael Lewis' books. Liar's Poker is on my 'to read' list.

Gladwell though, can tell stories, and people have learned to listen to them. He (perhaps) presents empiric findings in the form of anecdote which sadly sway people more than raw data and empiric experiments. Gladwell can tell the story of Henry George, and why his economic model never caught on. Or the story of risk homeostasis. Or why lottery isn't used to select members of parliament/congress.

I think why good ideas don't catch on their proven merits is a most interesting subject for a book. Stories must abound on the theme.

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