Friday, October 30, 2009

IOD2009 Day Three – Malcolm Gladwell

Today’s blog entry is a little late seeing as how this is Friday and IOD is over, but I’m writing about Wednesday morning’s keynote session highlighted by Malcolm Gladwell.

For those who do not know him, Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist and author best known as the author of the books The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005), and Outliers (2008). I’ve read all three of them and I highly recommend that you do, too. He also has a new book, What The Dog Saw, that I bought at the airport on the way home from IOD. I hope it is as good as the other three!

Gladwell’s books deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences. He spoke about some of these during his keynote session in a very entertaining and informative way. It was especially rewarding to hear him tie his messaging into the conference them of information-led transformation… and to hear him call all of the attendees mavens (read his books to understand that term).

Gladwell began his talk by noting the irony of hosting a conference dealing with information analytics in Las Vegas, of all places. You would think that the casinos might have an interest in that topic!

The major idea conveyed by Gladwell during his talk focused on change, and how it never occurs the way you think it will. He explained how radical changes happen much more quickly than we imagine. And he used a story about how the broadcast of a major prize fight transformed radio from a niche product to a transformative one.

He also talked about reframing as being necessary to elicit major changes. Prior to broadcasting the boxing match, radio was used to deliver news and classical music. But reframing it as a product for the delivery of real-time sports coverage – reframing its use – caused major transformation. Gladwell also highlighted Apple and the iPod. The iPod was not the first portable MP3 product, but it is the most successful. Because Apple simplified the interface and promoted it simply… that is, they reframed the issue!

I also enjoyed Gladwell’s story about how he purchased a laptop at CompUSA. Upon entering the store he was confronted with tables and tables of similar looking laptops and had no way to differentiate them. He tried the sales people but as anyone who ever went to CompUSA knows, they either couldn’t be found when you needed them or knew nothing about technology. So he called up his brother, who works in IT. He is not a well-known expert, but he is Malcolm’s maven – the guy he turns to for help. And he told him which laptop to purchase. Gladwell then went back to the CompUSA and he said he stood there pointing to the laptop his brother told him about. And about a half hour later the crack CompUSA salesman came to help him.

This story highlighted the concept of the maven. He also mentioned that if the executives were watching how he confidently pointed to the machine he wanted that it might have led them to erroneously believe that CompUSA needed less experienced… and, indeed, fewer sales people. Which might have led to their demise.

All in all, Gladwell was entertaining and informative – a very powerful combination.

The other highlight of the keynote session, for me at least, was that I was mentioned by name as the most prolific Twitter-er at the IOD conference. Now does that mean I was the most helpful or the most annoying… I’ll leave that to you all to decide.

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