Photo: Nina Walia via flickr
A recent headline from Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast asked the provocative question, “Did Malcolm Gladwell Cause The Recession?”It’s actually the second time this has come up. There’s an anecdote in Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big To Fail” that brought up the same question. The anecdote even inspired a book, “Wait” by Frank Partnoy.
Gladwell had gone to Lehman Brothers in 2005 to give its senior execs a talk about decision making. The writer had just published “Blink.”
“Lehman’s president Joe Gregory embraced this notion of going with your gut and deciding quickly, and he passed copies of Blink out on the trading floor,” said Partnoy in an interview with Smithsonian’s Megan Gambino.
So, what does Gladwell think about all this?
Felix Salmon at Reuters asked him outright if he caused Lehman to fail. Here’s what Gladwell had to say:
“First, Blink was not a book about the benefits of making instantaneous decisions. It was a book examining the power of instantaneous decisions — and a good half of the book (the last half) is devoted to all the ways that snap judgments can go awry. (The last two chapters, for example, are about how gut reactions caused the Diallo shooting and how gut reactions resulted in women being discriminated against in orchestras).
“The talk I gave to Lehman was along those lines: it was a talk, arising out of the book, about the ‘fragility’ of gut decisions–and about how if they are to be useful they have to be defended against bias and corruption.
“Of the many journalists who have reported on that talk, you are the first to actually ask me what I spoke about. The others, I suppose, just made an instantaneous decision about what I must have said.”