Malcolm Gladwell (@gladwell) has written multiple bestsellers that are probably on your shelf right now, including The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and Talking to Strangers. His latest book is The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War, and his Revisionist History podcast has just reached its seventh season.
What We Discuss with Malcolm Gladwell:
- Why you’re probably worse at detecting when other people are lying to you than you think you are (but at least it’s for a good reason).
- We judge people’s honesty based on their demeanor, but not everyone’s behavior matches what is expected of them — which often leads to false impressions.
- Why do we trust some institutions and people in authority almost without question, and what happens when that trust is (or is perceived to be) violated?
- How does Malcolm decide what to explore and study for his next book or podcast, and what happens to the ideas that get discarded along the way?
- Why Malcolm finds storytelling that assembles an imperfect puzzle more satisfying than a flawless conclusion.
- And much more…
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Ever feel like you’re someone who trusts too easily and winds up as an easy mark for the world’s most wicked deceivers? Don’t be so hard on yourself. It turns out we’re all actually pretty lousy lie detectors, and even people who do it for a living (like FBI agents, mobsters, and high school principals) get suckered just like the rest of us. Part of it is the evolutionary advantage to trusting others that’s ingrained in all of us. Part of it is the fact that most people aren’t lying to you most of the time. And part of it is that a lot of us have demeanors that are mismatched with how we’re expected to behave in certain circumstances — which may contribute to you thinking you’re being lied to when you’re actually not.
On this episode, we’re rejoined by Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and Talking to Strangers, and The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War (to name just a few) and host of the Revisionist History podcast to discuss what makes us susceptible to being hoodwinked and what we can do to more honestly appraise how people present themselves. We also get into how Malcolm decides what to explore and study for his next book or podcast, why he finds storytelling that assembles an imperfect puzzle to be more satisfying than a neat, flawless conclusion, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our episode with nonverbal communication expert Joe Navarro? Catch up with episode 135: Joe Navarro | How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People here!
The Prosecutors is a true crime podcast with a different point of view. Every week, Alice and Brett bring their unique perspective as prosecutors to the most famous cold case mysteries of all time. Listen here or wherever you enjoy podcasts!
Thanks, Malcolm Gladwell!
If you enjoyed this session with Malcolm Gladwell, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War by Malcolm Gladwell | Amazon
- Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell | Amazon
- Other Books by Malcolm Gladwell | Amazon
- Malcolm Gladwell | What We Should Know About Talking to Strangers | Jordan Harbinger
- Revisionist History Podcast
- Malcolm Gladwell | Website
- Malcolm Gladwell | Instagram
- Malcolm Gladwell | Facebook
- Malcolm Gladwell | Twitter
- Joe Navarro | How to Identify and Protect Yourself from Harmful People | Jordan Harbinger
- Truth-Default Theory | Timothy R. Levine
- Who Was Bernie Madoff? | Investopedia
- Rachael Denhollander | What Is a Girl Worth? | Jordan Harbinger
- Who Is Larry Nassar? Timeline of His Career, Prison Sentences | USA Today
- Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard: The Only Unbiased Account of the Trial and Evidence | Prime Crime
- Capturing the Friedmans | Prime Video
- An American Murder Mystery: The Staircase | Prime Video
- Amanda Knox | The Truth About True Crime | Jordan Harbinger
- COPS | Pluto TV
- Adam Grant | Why Helping Others Drives Our Success | Jordan Harbinger
- The Supreme Court of Mistrust | NPR
- Season 7: The Experiment Experience | Revisionist History
- A Star Is Born (1937) | Prime Video
- David O. Selznick: An Inventory of His Collection | Harry Ransom Center
- Will & Grace | Prime Video
- Weeds | Prime Video
- The Art of Failure by Malcolm Gladwell | The New Yorker
- All Stories by William Langewiesche | The Atlantic
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare | Amazon
- Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing | MasterClass
695: Malcolm Gladwell | Imperfect Puzzles and Mismatched Demeanors
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Malcolm Gladwell: You rarely ever know you're being lied to in the moment because you don't have enough evidence yet. The most common pathway to figuring out that you've been lied to is that you're lied to eight times. And then finally you find the credit card receipt in your partner's wallet. And you realize, "Oh, they absolutely were in Albuquerque when they said they were in Chicago." It's not something that you can guess in the moment. It's just not the way that we're wired.
[00:00:35] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills are the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional journalist-turned poker champion, mafia, enforcer, or undercover agent. And each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:01] If you're new to the show — welcome — or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it — thank you — I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show — topics like persuasion and influence, technology and futurism, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:24] Today, boys and girls, we've got Malcolm Gladwell back on the show.
[00:01:28] Matthew McConaughey: All right. All right. All right.
[00:01:31] Jordan Harbinger: Who doesn't love Malcolm Gladwell? Actually, quite a few of you wrote in with criticism last time we spoke to him. Criticism that I promised to address next time he came on. Well, I proudly broke that promise today, but it doesn't matter because we still had an amazing conversation. In case you all were not aware, Malcolm is one of the most popular authors in the world. He has books, we've all read like Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers, Talking to Strangers among others. We'll discuss one of his newest works, and one of my personal favorites, Talking to Strangers, what we should know about the people we don't know. Basically, all the tools we have when we talk to our friends — well, all of those betray us when we talk to people we don't know, when we talk to strangers. As social creatures, we believe that the information we gather face to face in human interaction is somehow uniquely valuable. For example, you'd never hire a babysitter without meeting them, but the information we get is not that accurate. Cops, FBI agents, and self-appointed, especially self-appointed YouTube body language experts, they do know better than chance, and sometimes even worse than chance when trying to detect lies and other deception. We'll also explore why we think we can tell someone's lying, guilty or deceptive, and why we are almost always wrong. Of course, I couldn't resist asking Malcolm a bunch of questions about his research, how reviews of his work affect him personally, and how he chooses the things he dives into and writes about.
[00:02:48] All right, now, here we go with Malcolm Gladwell.
[00:02:55] The thing that really stuck with me about Talking to Strangers was this conclusion that humans are not — we're not very good at knowing when another person is lying. When I interview FBI agents and things like that, if they specialize in body language or all of these different sorts of nonverbal communication, even they will say, "Yeah, it's kind of a coin flip on whether or not I know somebody is lying, unless I've spoken to them for like an hour and a half. And then I start to get good at catching them in lies." But these are the people who are supposed to be best at it. And even they will then admit, "Yeah, right off the bat, I just can't tell." We like to think our intuition is correct and that our judgments mean something, but it just seems like in many contexts they overwhelmingly do not.
[00:03:39] Malcolm Gladwell: I think it's important to make a distinction between the kinds of intuitions that are educatable and the kinds that are not. So if you were in a situation where — if you're a brain surgeon and you're doing brain surgeries over the course of 20 years and you're exposed to thousands of cases and you're getting immediate feedback on the quality of your judgments, you're going to get better. There's no question about that. We have reams of evidence about it. You know, we've all had — I sent a photograph of my daughter's eye to my cousin who's an academic ophthalmologist. He was like, "Oh, she's got this." He didn't like he answered instantly, right? So in his case, his snap are fantastic. But when we get into areas like assessing other people or guessing what someone else is thinking, there's no feedback loop. You know, I don't get a fact check if I think, "Oh, Jordan is really annoyed with me right now." There's no way for me to fact-check that, right? I may be looking at some cues and drawing a conclusion, but that process doesn't get improved by you telling me definitively whether I'm right or wrong.
[00:04:50] So that's a quality of intuition that never really improves. It just kind of, we're always kind of stabbing in the dark and it's particularly difficult when we're dealing with these kinds of guessing someone's internal state. It's not clear like you — you said, you mentioned that sometimes these FBI agents say, "Well out for an hour and a half, I'm getting better at it." The data would say that they're fooling themselves.
[00:05:13] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:05:14] Malcolm Gladwell: They're not getting better. We're all bad.
[00:05:16] Jordan Harbinger: That does sort of check out Joe Navarro, who sort of pioneered their behavioral analysis program, which is in some ways supposed to be about not lie detection, but recruiting spies and counterintelligence and things like that. Even he said, you really just can't tell. Like you can throw these body language things in, but unless, you know, your target super well, like you've been observing them for a really long time and you've got some sort of way. What do you call it? A baseline to see—
[00:05:43] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:05:43] Jordan Harbinger: —their actions. And you've been doing this for 10 or 20 years in the FBI. Then you have a better than 50/50 chance of guessing what they're doing. So he uses that example to say, so when your friend's cousin who's been watching a bunch of YouTube videos says, "Aha, he's lying because his foot's pointed towards the door. And then he looked down when he said—" It's just complete nonsense and probably even more wrong than if they just flipped a coin.
[00:06:07] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. It's hocus pocus. And it's very difficult for people to accept that fact. I think sometimes, I mean, we are powerfully invested in the value of our impressions, first impressions. And also because of what I said, that in certain instances, our first impressions are really useful. You know, we make judgments about whether we like someone very quickly.
[00:06:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:06:27] Malcolm Gladwell: And those tend to be quite, you know, they're highly predictive of whether we'll up liking them. We make very rapid judgments of whether we're romantically attracted to somebody. That again is something that stands up over time. So it's just difficult to accept the fact that a faculty that can be highly robust in one context is not in another.
[00:06:48] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny. Of course, we can judge whether or not we think somebody is attractive or whether we like them. But then the key difference is that's about us, right? That's about my perception of you. It has really almost nothing to do with the other person. It sure has to do with the way they strike us at one point. But we, as humans, tend to conflate what we decide someone is versus what they actually are. And it's almost like, even though I can explain that difference in one sentence or two sentences, my whole life, I'm going to be fighting myself to believe that those two things are different intuitively.
[00:07:21] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Which is ridiculous.
[00:07:22] Malcolm Gladwell: What's even more kind of perverse is in every other realm of our existence. We are legitimately getting better, right? So our technology is getting better. Our knowledge is getting better. Everything is getting better.
[00:07:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:07:37] Malcolm Gladwell: As human beings, we're still stuck with the same shortcomings—
[00:07:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:40] Malcolm Gladwell: —as we have a thousand years ago. It's pretty humbling.
[00:07:43] Jordan Harbinger: It's humbling. And it's almost frustrating because for those of us that like to be working on skills and working on ourselves — I mean, I spent years working on trying to tell what somebody's internal state was. Are they attracted? Are they lying about that? And then to just find out at the end of it, all that I was really just guessing and then convincing myself that I was right. It's just so profoundly disappointing in so many ways.
[00:08:08] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. But also, you know, the big argument of talking to strangers is that in the end, what we perceive is failing, our inability to other people, people's internal states, is actually one of the best things that human beings have going for us. The reason we do that is that we are wired — we're trusting engines.
[00:08:28] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:28] Malcolm Gladwell: We're wired basically to people and trust and it's of that, that we have been able to do virtually every important thing that we've done as a species. If you don't have a default to truth, if you don't implicitly trust others, you can't do anything.
[00:08:44] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:44] Malcolm Gladwell: You can't participate in the world. You can't walk down the street. You can't send your kids to school. We've seen how haywire our society goes when even for a moment, we abandon that predisposition towards truth.
[00:08:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's true. I think before when I read about Truth-Default Theory, and when I read Talking to Strangers, it was like the abstract person that maybe doesn't, by default, trust others. Now, all you have to do is look online or even in your own family at Thanksgiving, and like crazy Uncle Frank is the guy who won't use credit cards because they're tracking you, doesn't want to cell phone, won't use the Internet, everything, and his life is dysfunctional, right? He can't actually exist in the modern world or even in the not modern world, because everybody's out to get him.
[00:09:30] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:09:30] Jordan Harbinger: As important as crazy Uncle Frank is, right? With his 640 credit score, everyone's out to get him. And it's really unbelievable. You have to sort of start by believing others. And then only in the face of really overwhelming evidence, do we kind of change our mind, right?
[00:09:46] Malcolm Gladwell: Exactly. I mean, that's the great discovery of when I delved into the research for Talking to Strangers. You abandon your position, your default position, that someone's telling to the truth only when the evidence becomes impossible to deny. So you rarely ever know you're being lied to in the moment because you don't have enough evidence yet. The most common pathway to figuring out that you've been lied to is that you're lied to eight times. And then finally you find that credit card receipt in your partner's wallet, and you realize, "Oh, they absolutely were in Albuquerque when they said they were in Chicago." It's not something that you can guess in the moment. It's just not the way that we're wired.
[00:10:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So these kinds of doubts, only trigger disbelief when we just cannot explain them away. So, unfortunately, smart people who are good at rationalizing things, we will doubt someone and then we will explain it away. And I've spent a long time doing that with, let's say having business partners that are scammers or addicts or whatever it is that are lying habitually to me. And I just started doing more and more mental gymnastics. And then one day, it's just like, "Wait a minute. What am I doing? This is not helping me navigate this situation. I'm just doing their work for them." And like, to your example, someone's cheating in a relationship. And later when they're caught, you say to yourself, "How could I have been so stupid? The signs were all there," and the answer is actually you weren't stupid. You were smart. You just kept rationalizing their behavior for them because you're intelligent enough of a creature to do that. And that's probably one reason why us humans are so easily duped, right?
[00:11:25] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. I mean, it's funny, Tim Levine, who's the psychologist whose work I relied on for that part of Talking to Strangers. So all of his ideas are really things that he and a couple of others, his colleagues, pioneered. This idea that psychologists have been struggling for generations to try and figure out why are human beings so bad at detecting truth and lies. And there was a million explanations that had been floated and it was really Tim Levine who comes along and says, "First of all, no, one's good at it." You know, the previous theory had been, "Oh, it's a set of techniques. That if we only learned the set of techniques, then we can all get good." He's like, "No, no, no. No one's good. And no one's good for a good reason." That's really his contribution. I mean, he made enormous contributions to this field.
[00:12:14] I remember reading — when I read Tim Levine's work for the first time, it was before I even had decided to write a book, this book. It just was like, it kind of opened my eyes. This resulted so many unanswered questions I've had about it. Why on earth would we bad at something? You would've thought evolution would've selected out the people who were good at telling truth from falsity, right?
[00:12:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:12:38] Malcolm Gladwell: And Tim's point is actually no. Evolution favors those who trust other people. Evolution favors the people who will occasionally be duped because the 98 percent of time when they're not duped and their trust is rewarded, puts them so far ahead of the game that they're the ones who win out in the end.
[00:12:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, I see. Right. because getting duped occasionally is not enough to take down the fact that 1500 people can work together and build a giant, I don't know, castle in the middle of an indefensible territory.
[00:13:09] Malcolm Gladwell: He has all these kind of propositions that he proved, and one of his central propositions is that, first of all, lying is a lot less frequent than we think consequential lies. So white lies, people white lie all the time, but a white lies is a lie that you tell in order to preserve the social fabric. It's actually a lie that is told in the interest of preserving trust but realize lies that are serious attempts to — first of all, they're rare. And secondly, only a small number of people tell those kinds of lies with any frequency. So there's a little tiny pool of liars in the world. And everyone else is basically in trusting mode. And it's why the odds favor the trusters because you will, sure, if you invest all your life, there's a chance you might run into Bernie Madoff, but 99.9 of investors never run into Bernie Madoff and fund their retirement because they trust the people who take their money to do something productive with it. And that's a really healthy thing in society.
[00:14:16] Jordan Harbinger: It also explains why there are these, when we see the bad examples, right? The Dr. Larry Nassar — and for people who don't know, this is like a doctor for the USA gymnastics team and over at Michigan State, who abused, was it hundreds or was it actually thousands? I guess they maybe don't even know, of young women.
[00:14:34] Malcolm Gladwell: Many women have come forward. Yeah.
[00:14:35] Jordan Harbinger: Many, many, and Rachel Denhollander who was on the show episode 332. She came out and finally sort of blew the lid off this whole thing. And now, he's in prison for life. And people said, "I can't believe that this happened," but if you think about truth-default theory, it explains a lot of why something like this can happen. Yes, there was a coverup and there's other people who were culpable in this who said, "Oh, they're just making this up." But default truth biases us in favor of, maybe, the most likely information and not the most accurate, right? So the most likely information is this weird nerdy doctor guy is probably fine. Most people are.
[00:15:12] Malcolm Gladwell: Most nerdy people are not child molesters.
[00:15:14] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:15] Malcolm Gladwell: It's incredibly rare, active, aggressive child molesters are incredibly rare. If your daughter is being treated by someone who seems a little weird, the odds are, he's actually not a child molester, right?
[00:15:28] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:28] Malcolm Gladwell: So people take the likeliest interpretation, which is usually works. And sadly in that case did not. And, you know, I did a chapter on that because I thought some of the stories are astonishing.
[00:15:40] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:15:41] Malcolm Gladwell: There would be mothers in the room when Nassar was abusing their children and they just were — they couldn't see it. Not because they were inattentive, but just that as human beings, we have difficulty seeing something that is that kind of statistically and morally unlikely.
[00:15:59] Jordan Harbinger: And of course, that was what his whole thing was. He'd be like, "This is going to twinge a little because it's your, I don't know, pelvic floor or something, something." And he is got a blanket over them and the girl winces and the mom's like, "Oh, it's okay, honey," right? And it's just that made it even worse, right? Because one interpretation is—
[00:16:16] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:16:16] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, he's being a good doctor. He's doing some stuff that I don't fully understand. The other interpretation is this is a pedophilic monster who is doing this right in front of mom and dad and been doing it for decades. And no one said anything. And it's just like, well, what are the odds of that to be fair?
[00:16:33] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. The whole thing is—
[00:16:34] Jordan Harbinger: Skeevy.
[00:16:36] Malcolm Gladwell: Yes, it is a little bit.
[00:16:38] Jordan Harbinger: Well, the reason this stuff is so relevant right now is that there are dramatic. And in this case, literally dramatic implications of this for our modern world, where people are forming these judgments constantly about tons of people online, on TV, in person. With politicians, you see this all the time. "Look, Joe Biden looked left, he's lying," or more likely in the pop culture sense, there's courtroom footage, and we're all trying to decide if Johnny Depp or Amber Heard are the ones that are lying or whatever. And we're so bad at this. And yet was that the most watched thing of the entire last couple of years, the entire pandemic potentially. I mean, that trial probably got more people watching it than the Game of Thrones seasons.
[00:17:17] Malcolm Gladwell: But it's proof of the point, right? The fact that the world was sort of evenly divided on pro-Amber, pro-Johnny—
[00:17:24] Jordan Harbinger: Were they evenly divided? I don't know, man. I don't exactly—
[00:17:26] Malcolm Gladwell: I don't even know. I mean, the fact that there were lots of people on both sides of that. I don't know whether it was even.
[00:17:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah.
[00:17:30] Malcolm Gladwell: But the fact that there were lot of people who legitimately took one position or another—
[00:17:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:17:36] Malcolm Gladwell: Says that are not that as human being, we can reach to definitive answers. All we're doing is kind of venting an opinion based on our own highly subjective reading of the facts. I think that's why — do you remember a movie years ago? There was a movie about the Friedmans, Capturing the Friedmans. Remember that?
[00:17:54] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. What was that about though? I do remember that. I downloaded it.
[00:17:58] Malcolm Gladwell: It was about a family, a father and a son who were accused of being child molesters in the most kind of extravagant, exotic kind. And this was a documentary about what father and son went through after were accused of this. So I watched that and I was like, oh, these guys were innocent. This whole thing, the movie is all about the hysteria and the false charges leveled against these guys. And I was discussing the movie with a really good mine, a highly intelligent person for whom I have enormous respect.
[00:18:29] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:18:30] Malcolm Gladwell: And he had a hundred percent the opposite conclusion. And that was one of the first moments I was like, "Oh, this is hard." It's like, we watched the same movie and both of us had a 100 percent different interpretation of the filmmakers intent.
[00:18:45] Jordan Harbinger: And it's interesting, right? Because of course you watch some documentaries and you go, "They did it. Oh, no, they didn't do it. Wait. Nope. They did it." And that's the documentarian doing that on purpose. But if you're literally sitting there, you both finish it and then you go, "What do you think? It's obvious they're criminals, right?" And the other person goes, "You're joking, aren't you?"
[00:18:59] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:18:59] Jordan Harbinger: That's just the same input into different — it's a different Plinko machine in your head. And it just comes out with a completely different result.
[00:19:08] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Did you watch the original documentary, The Staircase?
[00:19:11] Jordan Harbinger: A while ago, probably.
[00:19:13] Malcolm Gladwell: I was like, "The guy is innocent," and like, you know, good friends of mine were like, "The guy is guilty."
[00:19:18] Jordan Harbinger: It seems dangerous that this is the outcome, right? I guess there's probably a reason that it's not, but for me, it's a little scary that we can watch Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard, and suddenly we decide — I mean, like my wife and I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but she would be like, "I just hope they throw the book at Amber Heard. She's the worst person ever." And I'm thinking, "You know, you really only heard a very biased testimony from Johnny Depp's lawyer." That's kind of like, I'm going to introduce you to somebody that I absolutely hate and who I want to destroy. And you're going to form your opinion of this person based on what I tell you. And now you have to meet them and have a totally unbiased experience with them. It's impossible.
[00:19:56] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Well, you know, but if we explore these ideas too far, then you know, a big chunk of popular culture disappears.
[00:20:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:20:03] Malcolm Gladwell: Right. You think about how many podcasts are about examinations of grisly crimes.
[00:20:08] Jordan Harbinger: A true crime. Yeah.
[00:20:09] Malcolm Gladwell: Which are interesting to us for precisely this reason. If it was an open-and-shut matter about whether someone was guilty or innocent or lying or telling, none of these narratives would have any appeal to us. They are appealing to us precisely because of this point. We just lost. So you really can tell a compelling story because we genuinely are in the dark.
[00:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Malcolm Gladwell. We'll be right back.
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[00:21:45] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Peloton. I'm pretty disciplined, but I still need motivation to keep up consistency day after day especially when I got work to do. I've got my kids to play with. It's hard to fit anything else into my day. Jen and I have had the Peloton Bike for a couple of years now. Peloton makes it easy to work out consistently. Plus the classes are really fun. You get lost in the music. All the instructors are world class. Jen loves Cody Rigsby. Honestly, the guy's really fun and funny. He will make her laugh the whole time, even when she wants to cry because her legs are on fire. Take a 10-minute upper body stretch between calls, do a 40-minute run or cycle class before bed. There's also strength training in yoga, dance cardio, which is a hit these days, all available 24/7.
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[00:22:44] Jordan Harbinger: Hey, a lot of you wonder how I book the guest for the show, it's always about my network and I know you probably don't have your own show, but you still need a network because, you know, career, business, personal life, all the things. I'm teaching you, how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is about improving your networking and your connection skills and inspiring others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. It'll make you a better networker, a better connector, and most importantly, a better thinker. That's all free at jordanharbinger.com/course. And most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and/or contribute to the course. So come join us. You'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:23:23] Now back to Malcolm Gladwell.
[00:23:28] Tell me about mismatching. I had Amanda Knox on the show and, you know, she's quirky. She's an interesting person. And I don't know — she's just a little, on a different wavelength than a lot of people, but that apparently, was enough for people to say she's wily, she's unpredictable. Her emotions after the murder of her roommate in Italy didn't match up to what people expected to see. So that just must mean she's guilty. Not, "Oh, well, she's totally detached from this and just had a different reaction than I would have."
[00:23:56] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:23:56] Jordan Harbinger: And that's it. It doesn't mean anything.
[00:23:58] Malcolm Gladwell: So this is another, I think really important, Tim Levine idea. One of Tim's arguments is that it's not the case, that all people are impossible to make sense of. He said the central problem in trying to read someone's internal states is that you make an inference about what they're thinking on the inside from the way they behave on the outside. And in some cases, that's easy. A baby, when a baby hits his head and starts to cry, you say the baby is sad and upset and in pain, right? And how do you reach that conclusion? By observing the fact that they're crying and they're in the state of visible discomfort. That's called matched behavior, where the external and the internal are consistent with each other and where the internal feeling is represented in the way that we commonly understand internal feelings to be represented on the outside.
[00:24:57] So a matched person, who's nervous sweats. A matched person who is excited, their eyes go wide and their eyebrows go up and their mouth opens, right? But there's a significant pool of people who are unmatched, whose internal states are accompanied by external states that are just kind of different. There are some people, lots of people, who don't smile when they're happy, who don't sweat when they're nervous, and whose eyes don't go wide when they're surprised, right? They just have different manifestations. And, you know, there are some people when they're innocent of a crime and they're being asked about it by a police officer, they get indignant and say, "How could you accuse me?" right? There are other people when they're innocent of a crime and they're talking to the police officer, they get really super quiet and nervous doesn't mean they're guilty.
[00:25:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:25:51] Malcolm Gladwell: It just means that, Levine would say, they're mismatched. They just have a set — and my feeling, I read all of these books on Amanda Knox and what's fascinating about it is, you know, most of them are books explaining why people think she's guilty. What's fascinating is 90 percent of the evidence used to accuse Amanda Knox of being a killer is about how her behavioral reactions are unusual.
[00:26:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:26:18] Malcolm Gladwell: In other words, it's all about the fact she's mismatched. It's like, there's no actual evidence suggesting that she murdered her roommate.
[00:26:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:26:25] Malcolm Gladwell: It's just, she doesn't behave the way we expect someone who is innocent to behave, which is the flimsiest, most useless way to determine someone's guilt. It was I was reading all those Amanda books. And I was like, "Oh my god, this is like, can I just send everyone a copy of Tim Levine's research so they can understand that this incredibly basic psychological error that they're making?"
[00:26:49] Jordan Harbinger: It's a shame because essentially this is defined her life, you know, for better, for worse and mostly for worse because she was in an Italian prison for a couple of years or something like that. I can't remember. And she's infamous, even though she's been marked as not guilty. There's all these people, "No, she got off on a technicality." I mean the YouTube comments on episode 386 of this show and the emails I've gotten are just, they're horrible. And it's like, I feel bad for her and I'm thinking, "Oh my goodness." And then people go, "You got duped. You know, she did it." And it's just horrible. We judge people's honesty based on their demeanor, which is, of course, inaccurate and the mismatch, that's what seems like dishonesty. So of course, when I read that, I'm like, "Oh, I mismatch that literally explains my whole life." But of course, the default to truth, which we just talked about, plus the mismatching means we get deceived really easily.
[00:27:39] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah.
[00:27:39] Jordan Harbinger: In theory.
[00:27:40] Malcolm Gladwell: Oh yeah, yeah. Deceived in different ways. Mismatch shows how often we think someone is guilty of something when they're actually not, they're just kind of, although it can work in the opposite direction, of course. Somebody can have all of the appearance of innocence when in fact they're deeply guilty. It's funny though, what it says about us is, it goes back to something you were saying earlier, as human beings, we play the odds.
[00:28:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:28:03] Malcolm Gladwell: Because in most cases, people who are happy inside smile on the outside, we make it into a rule.
[00:28:10] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah.
[00:28:11] You know, as opposed to thinking of it simply as a probability. It should be that if you're smiling, chances are you're happy on the outside. That's that should be as far as we go, but we don't. We want to say smiling on the outside, you are happy on the inside, which is a bridge too far.
[00:28:28] There was a kid in my class growing up. I can't remember his name, but it doesn't matter. Whenever he was nervous, he would smile. And it was almost like muscle tension or something, and he would smile and he got in trouble all the time. Because as soon as somebody threw a spitball at the board, the teacher would look back. And of course, the kid who did it would be like writing something on paper with a pencil because he learned how to do that after third grade. And there would be this kid just staring at the teachers and sort of like smiling and he'd go, "You principal's office now." And this kid got it, I mean, it was like every day and he did do some bad things, but he always looked like he was doing bad things if you're looking for that matching. And it's unfortunate that I guess this teacher didn't know. There's just no uniform way that every person expresses themselves. So it's hard to tell what's going on inside their head or in any respect.
[00:29:17] Malcolm Gladwell: One of the coolest things, it's in a footnote in Talking to Strangers because I couldn't figure out how to put it in the text, but I ran across this amazing study. Remember the television show Cops?
[00:29:27] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:29:27] Malcolm Gladwell: So Cops is a documentary show where we see cops confronting people after a crime has been committed. We end up knowing by the end of the show, whether the person who the cops talk to was innocent or guilty of the crime. It's usually fairly obvious. So this psychologist did this brilliant study where he looked at 100 episodes of Cops. And what he was interested — so in most cases, we know whether the person who's talking to cops is innocent or guilty. And we know other things about them, whether they're black or white or Hispanic, male or female. And what he discovered was that innocent, white suspects and innocent black suspects talk to the police in profoundly different ways.
[00:30:08] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:30:09] Malcolm Gladwell: So the innocent white suspect looks the police officer in the eye and answers clearly and in a straightforward manner. The innocent black suspect would be far more likely to look away, to act in a way that stereotypically we would associate with guilt. It was really interesting. And then he went down like five different body language cues and showed how they differ dramatically by depending on which cultural tradition you grew up in. Same thing was true with Hispanic versus white versus black. I just thought, oh my god. This explains so much that if you have white police officers who grow up in a white cultural world and are used to doing that kind of calculation based on what they've seen all around them, white culture, they're going to get people from other cultures wrong. Maybe that accounts for a part of why there are these lingering tensions between, you know, white police officers and minority groups.
[00:31:06] Jordan Harbinger: Is there any way to get better at this? You know, more generally, I suppose, what can people's facial cues really tell us? Again, there's a lot of YouTube science on this, but it's mostly been debunked by actual scientists. Is the answer to just refrain from making judgments about other people altogether, knowing how ineffective we really are?
[00:31:25] Malcolm Gladwell: Well, we know there's a certain thing. One is you should probably limit the amount of data you gather in any kind of situation. So Tim Levine would say, you know, you're probably better off just reading the transcript of someone's remarks than actually talking to them face to face if you're trying to figure out whether they're lying or not. The visual stuff we're getting is just screwing us up. But by looking closely at the way, people phrase things, specificity that they use, whether there's internal contradictions in what people, the stories they're telling, you know, somebody's making something up, maybe more likely to contradict themselves because they're inventing a story on the fly. So you probably do a better job that way, but mostly it's about patience. You know, it's waiting long enough. So you gather enough evidence that you have something to go on. You're not reacting to some fleeting bit of body language. You're actually gathering evidence and weighing it carefully and drawing a conclusion.
[00:32:21] So the very thing that we think of as being a failing of law enforcement, that law enforcement very often takes its time is actually its strength, you know? People say, "Well, it took them 20 years to find Madoff." You know, probably that's how long it takes to catch one of these people. You're not going to find out in 10 minutes. You're not going to meet Madoff and say he's making it all up. It takes a while.
[00:32:46] Jordan Harbinger: What would this teach us about how to behave or maybe how not to behave when we're caught up in some kind of public drama? You know, we get an office scandal, hopefully not a crime, maybe a family dispute. To what extent do we take other people's perceptions into account when we decide how to act? Or should we just not even try to do that?
[00:33:03] Malcolm Gladwell: Well, it says that we should be cautious about our initial impressions. We should try and verify them over. It says that we should be forgiving or at least we should be aware of the possibility of mismatch. So the mismatches are the things that strike us in the moment. If you are really so upset, why are you looking indifferent and blank faced? If you really cared about me, you would've hugged me when I was in the door. That kinda thing.
[00:33:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:33:35] Malcolm Gladwell: We need to be mindful of what incredible variety there is in the way people express their feelings and their intentions. That's about slowing down and letting, giving people the space to express themselves in a way that's legible.
[00:33:50] Jordan Harbinger: The thing is knowing all this, right? Having read the book multiple times and looking at all the science and all the junk science, and like I said, diluting myself for years to think I could do one thing when I couldn't, I still wouldn't hire a babysitter for my kids without meeting them. So in your opinion, is that because I'm actually gleaning useful information about this person, or am I still just in denial? And I think I can do that just like everyone else thinks they can do that.
[00:34:16] Malcolm Gladwell: Well. So I once had an argument with Adam Grant about this. Adam convinced me, he was like, well, the information that you gather from the body language of the babysitter, the potential babysitter is probably not a useful guide as to whether they'll be a good babysitter. However, there are other reasons to want to meet the babysitter in person. So if I say to the babysitter, let's meet at 3:30 at my house and the babysitter shows up at five. I'm not hiring, right? If they show up and there's liquor on their breath, not hiring them. If they show up in the driveway and they end up parking on the grass, they drive over a flower bed, not hiring them. You know what I mean? There are other reasons—
[00:34:57] Jordan Harbinger: The metadata.
[00:34:59] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah — why you want to meet them face to face. And also you may think your child is someone really enjoys being around extroverted people. Then, you know, if you think your child will get a kick out of somebody, then you have to know a certain kind of person, then that's another good reason to want to meet them face to face. But if your intention is to figure out whether your babysitter is a duplicitous person, who means you will, you're not going to figure that out by meeting them face to face, but it's important to remember those kinds of dire high-stakes judgments are only a small portion of the reasons why we might want to meet someone and the useful information we can get from an encounter.
[00:35:42] Jordan Harbinger: What did Adam Grant say about this? I'm curious. I know it's unfair to have you characterize someone else's argument like five years after the fact, but I am curious.
[00:35:49] Malcolm Gladwell: That argument I just gave you about all the other information as useful as Adam's argument.
[00:35:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:35:54] Malcolm Gladwell: As I always do, I steal his ideas.
[00:35:55] Jordan Harbinger: Gotcha.
[00:35:56] Malcolm Gladwell: Happy to credit him, but since he's much smarter than I am, I would be foolish for me to use my own ideas when I can use his.
[00:36:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, well, yeah, I mean, that's the whole basis of this show, so I totally understand.
[00:36:10] It seems like all the tools we have when we talk to our friends, people, we know, well, they betray us when we actually talk to strangers. So what if we have an interaction that just is especially consequential, it requires high trust. There's a strong information imbalance — doctors, lawyers, bosses. I'm trying to think of another one, but I'm coming up blank. What tools can we take from these insights and use in these interactions?
[00:36:36] Malcolm Gladwell: Well, that's super interesting. So these kinds of high-stakes encounters where we have no alternatives, right? We can't shop around. We can't — well, that's where the problem is sort of out of our hands.
[00:36:51] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:51] Malcolm Gladwell: And it becomes a social problem. So why is it so important? For example, let's use the medical example, it's very important for the medical profession to prepare its practitioners carefully and to aggressively weed out those who are substandard, because as patients, we have no choice, but to trust whatever doctors in front of us. So we're helpless, we are effectively helpless. Like you show up, you're in a car crash and they wheel you into the hospital on a stretcher, you can't be grilling the ER doctor to see whether that doctor is up enough, right? But versions of it, even if you're sitting down across from your doctor and they're talking to you about some complicated thing, their knowledge base is a thousand times larger than yours. It's a mismatch.
[00:37:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:37:36] Malcolm Gladwell: That's where social institution building is so incredibly crucial that they have to kind of allow us to trust. They have to sort of lower the costs of trust to be as low as possible and reward trust with competence. You know, I would say that in the United States, in the Western world, we've done a really good job of that kind of institution building, structural trust building.
[00:38:03] I remember once talking to someone from a developing country and I was talking about my native Canada, for reasons, I don't understand, Canadian accountants are the envy of the world. There's something about the way accounting rules are written in Canada and the kind of training that accountants go through that our accounting systems work really well. And other countries covet them. They're like hire Canadians to come and teach them how to do it. And that's not because Canadians are intrinsically more trustworthy than other people. It's because in this particular instance they did a really good job of institution building. So now, trust is rewarded in that realm in Canada.
[00:38:43] That's something we have to, as society, we need to think seriously about.
[00:38:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I suppose that's part of the problem we're dealing with in the last few years here is there's a lack of trust in almost or a declining level of trust in many institutions that previously seemed unassailable. Would you agree with that?
[00:39:00] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. I mean, without meaning to comment directly on it or take sides, the whole drama about the Supreme Court and these abortion rulings is about that, that the court at various times in its history, when it acts rashly, it sets in motion a kind of cycle of mistrust that undermines its very reason for existence. Courting works if we feel like we're in the hands of highly competent people who are careful and cautious and thoughtful and all those kinds of things. And when the court violates that kind of pact, we get incredibly consequential, social conflicts, right? I mean, we've been fighting over this thing for 50 years.
[00:39:45] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:39:46] Malcolm Gladwell: It's nuts. It's like, you know, there's got to be a better way to do it. And I think you can make the case that both the original Roe and the repudiation of Roe suffer from, regardless of the merits of them, suffer from the same flaw on that is that the court did not justify how aggressively it was kind of violating the contract it had with the American people.
[00:40:08] Jordan Harbinger: It's interesting, because, of course, I read, "Hey, the original decision was flawed. You can look at all these essays, I suppose, by justices or by legal scholars from even 50 years ago all the way up to right now." And then they do the same thing again. And again, like you said, regardless of whether of what the outcome is, the fact is people were pissed off then and people were pissed off now. And it's not just because they're on the wrong side of the decision. It's because we've expected something from them and not gotten it. That's the problem with the institution. It's like when a lawyer bullies someone and other lawyers, we go, "Oh gosh, I hate when that happens, because it makes us all look ridiculous and bad, or you get some crook, right? I would imagine Bernie Madoff was not good for the investing, the financial advisor industry, or anything like that. And it's because we, as members of an institution value that institution and journalists right now who don't make stuff up so that they get more clicks on YouTube or Facebook are also going, "Oh, come on." When they see these headlines that are just, with each headline, it's just another hammer on the chisel that's taking down the foundation of trust in media. At some point, it becomes so problematic that, that truth-default theory kind of doesn't even exist anymore. For a lot of people who read things in media. They'll pick up the New York Times and go, There's nothing true in here, which is also not the case.
[00:41:28] Malcolm Gladwell: You're absolutely right. I mean, thinking deeply, that was what writing Talking to Strangers did for me is that I had never really sort of thought in a kind of deep way about what trust looks like, how trust behaves, how trust gets violated. Just doing the research for that book, sort of brought all those issues from before.
[00:41:50] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Malcolm Gladwell. We'll be right back.
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[00:44:25] How do you decide what to explore and what to study? Because there's virtually unlimited amount of topics out there. And of course, you have a knack for picking things. At least that people seem to find super interesting. I also wonder how often you start a topic and then do a deep dive and you go, "Nah." And then that just, those notes sit in a drawer for a decade.
[00:44:44] Malcolm Gladwell: There's a little bit of that. Although it's not, I gave up on things, not because I don't liked them, but cause. I feel that the time isn't right or I'm not sure yet what I want to do with it. So there are little kind of nuggets lying around that that are just kind of waiting for a home. I guess I'm looking for stories when I decide what I'm going to go forward with. When I think for example, about the current season of Revisionist History, which is just about launch, all of the episodes in this season are about experiments. So I sort of got it in my head that we don't do enough experiments in society. I didn't understand why. There's so many things we would like to learn.
[00:45:27] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:27] Malcolm Gladwell: And the best way to learn something is to an experiment. And yet we seem to experiment with very little that we seem to tend to subdue things. And then after the fact kinda wonder whether they work or not, as opposed to starting by saying, let's find out whether this alternative is better than the other alternative. And I didn't understand why we were so kind of low to it. So I decided that I would do a whole season that talked about experiments to give various examples of them.
[00:45:55] And there's a really fun one that's all about, the first one of the episodes is all about — I know this is actually the answer to your question. Years ago, I read in a book about Hollywood, an account of the original script for the first A Star is Born, which is made by David O. Selznick in 1937 and subsequently be remade three more times, most recently with Lady Gaga. And in the original script was written by Dorothy Parker, a key scene is deleted and it's deleted in a rewrite with the result, the movie goes in a dramatically different direction than it had originally been intended to go. And years ago, I read this passage and I thought that is so interesting, A. B, I'm not convinced that the new version is better than the old version, and C, I think the world would've been quite different if the old version had been put into practice.
[00:46:52] I sort of set that aside for, God, six or seven years, and then I'm doing this season on experiments and I think, oh, I could do a good kinda what-if experiment on what if they hadn't deleted the scene. So you asked me, how do I choose my stories? That's a great one because right away you got a little bit of Hollywood history. You've got all the great characters. You've got archive. I mean, you can go to the David O. Selznick papers, as I did in Austin, Texas. You can read all, you can find all the original scripts of A Star is Born. So there's like cool archival stuff, great characters. There are people you can talk to today who can talk about their own — you know, there's all kinds of film historians and actors and whatever. You can use movie clips.
[00:47:34] So I look for stories that have lots of dimensions, and that's a story that had, the more I thought about it, the more dimensions it seemed to have, and we ended up like, there's a whole, like thing about Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind. And you know, Margaret Mitchell dies in a drunk driving crash and we end up going to Atlanta and figuring out — you know, it's like, I like those kinds of stories that start small, but then you end up being led in multiple directions. That's what I'm looking for. Can it? Can the little kernel take me multiple places?
[00:48:05] Jordan Harbinger: I know you love jigsaw puzzles. Well, tell me why. And does that relate to how you create your books and your writing as well?
[00:48:13] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah, it is a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle. It's a jigsaw puzzle — I mean, the difference is, of course, a real jigsaw puzzle always has a solution.
[00:48:22] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's on the front of the box, most of the time.
[00:48:25] Malcolm Gladwell: You know you can get there. Stories, you don't always know that the problem you're grappling with has a solution. So it's a little more of a high wire act and it's a little more exhilarating when you figure out a solution because it wasn't predetermined the way an actual jigsaw puzzle is, but they're very similar in a sense that there's a kind of satisfaction, an enormous satisfaction in putting in the final piece to the puzzle, right? And that's the satisfaction you're trying to win for your audience. You want them to feel that same way when all of the pieces of the story fall together by the end. And then if you can get them to feel like a little bit of anxiety in the first part of the story where they don't know where it's going, they don't know if it's going to get if you're going to pull it off. And then you pull it off and they go, "Oh thank God." That's what you want. That moment of the last piece. Oh, the puzzle is actually going to be completed. That's gold.
[00:49:24] Jordan Harbinger: There must be a lot of times when you're writing where — you know, when you're doing a jigsaw puzzle and it's like, "Oh, I found it." And then it's just like a millimeter off from fitting in and you just want to smash it in really hard and make it fit. That's got to be a thing that you experience a lot when you're writing because you've got this, as you said, this mental drawer full of nuggets, you want to use, you're trying to make the picture complete. I would be so tempted to just smash all the pieces together. I guess that's probably why I'm not a writer.
[00:49:52] Malcolm Gladwell: You know, well, I would say rather than smash the piece in, why not just acknowledge the fact that the piece doesn't fit perfectly.
[00:50:00] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:50:00] Malcolm Gladwell: So there's one mistake people make in writing. You never want to, if you're going to have two stories that you want to tell and you want them, in the end, to come together, a very common storytelling type of technique, your two stories should not be identical. You shouldn't be comparing apples to apples. You actually should be comparing apples to oranges, right? The cliche is wrong. You want to compare apples to oranges. So apples and oranges have a lot in common, right? They are two fruits that you eat and that are refreshing and that sit in a bowl and they're about the same size, but they're profoundly different, right? Whether you peel one, you just bite do another one, whatever. What you want to do is compare apples and oranges. You want to compare two things that have something in common but are different enough that the act of comparing them is interesting. You know, if I said to you — I did a podcast episode, another one of my ones was about Will & Grace, making the argument that it's the most important sitcom over the last seven to five years.
[00:50:58] Jordan Harbinger: Was the premise of that again, for people who don't know it was?
[00:51:00] Malcolm Gladwell: Will & Grace was, Will was gay, Grace was straight, and they were best friends, as a result, could never marry. They were in love with each other, but their love was forever doomed. And so they were trapped in this beautiful friendship and they have two of these other friends who kind of, you know, it's a classic kind of New York City, eccentric people in the New York City apartment sitcom of which they were met in the '90s. It's not interesting to compare Will & Grace to Friends because they're too similar.
[00:51:29] Jordan Harbinger: Too similar. Okay.
[00:51:30] Malcolm Gladwell: Right. I ended up comparing Will & Grace to Orange is The New Black.
[00:51:34] Jordan Harbinger: The prison show, right? I haven't seen it.
[00:51:36] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Netflix.
[00:51:37] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:51:37] Malcolm Gladwell: And the reason was that a guy named David Kohan created Will & Grace and his sister Jenji created Orange is New Black. That's really what they have in common. They don't have anything else in common. They both accepted their television shows but using that, so that's our apples and oranges, but it's actually really fun to talk about how different those two shows are. Even though they come from the same family. They're both really popular and they're both really good. And they're both television shows and they're produced by brother and sister, but then that's it. Then we can go in a million directions and talk about how insanely that's fun, right? In a way that comparing Will & Grace to Friends would not be fun.
[00:52:17] Jordan Harbinger: So the imperfect puzzle is maybe what draws the reader in. Is that kind of where you're going with this?
[00:52:22] Malcolm Gladwell: I think so. I think you want, I'm always wary of too completely satisfying the audience. I want the audience to feel a little bit unsettled after they've listened to one of my stories. I don't want it to feel perfect.
[00:52:39] Jordan Harbinger: I guess that makes sense. And probably is what gets people talking. Actually, do you read your book's reviews ever?
[00:52:44] Malcolm Gladwell: Not really. I mean, my problem is early in my career, my reviews were so nasty that I just kind of stopped and realized it was pointless. I don't actively avoid them, but I certainly don't track them down and read them quietly at night.
[00:52:59] Jordan Harbinger: So the criticism of your earlier work probably hasn't necessarily shaped your more recent work if they were just sort of like hateful, screened that you then stopped reading?
[00:53:09] Malcolm Gladwell: No, I mean, I got some considered criticism like that I took seriously. I think as I've gotten older, I've become in more interested in stories that are a little more complicated. That thing I just said about imperfection in apples and oranges.
[00:53:24] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:53:24] Malcolm Gladwell: Those are not things I would've said when I was 30. So I think I have kind, my tastes have gotten a little more sophisticated, which is what happens as you get older, right? It's very common. I'm a little bolder as well. I need to try more weird things now than I did when I was younger. Last season of Revisionist History, you know, we rewrote the Little Mermaid and then we explained why we're rewriting and then we acted it out the revised version. It was totally nuts.
[00:53:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:53:54] Malcolm Gladwell: You know, I would never have done that when I was 30. Now, I think it's hilarious. And you know, that's the kind of, I feel I'm more adventurous than I was.
[00:54:03] Jordan Harbinger: Do you have any criticism of your earlier work or of any of your work actually that you hear may be somewhat often even today that you actually agree with?
[00:54:13] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. You know, I want to do my first book Tipping Point. We're coming up on its 25th anniversary and I'm going to do a 25th anniversary revised edition. I'm going to go back and in some areas substantially rewrite. You know, I think, there's a chapter book on crime, which is, I would have never written it today. It just is so partly because in the '90s, when I wrote that book, our understanding about crime was very different than it's now. We're much further along in our— and I'm personally much more, I think, knowledgeable about the subject. So there's lots of arguments that I would kind of deepen and complexify. There's a little too much in love with the kind of power of policing back then are lessened now, or at least I have a different conclusion about it now. But yeah, I think, I mean, in the same way, that how many things that you believed in the year 2000, do you believe in today?
[00:55:06] Jordan Harbinger: Gosh, I don't even remember anything. I mean, I was 20, so my thinking was relatively unsophisticated back then. Not all of us are Malcolm Gladwell and starting off with a bang in life so I don't know, probably not a whole lot. I'd probably look back and go, "Good god, that's cringe and I'm glad it's not on the Internet."
[00:55:24] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Well, I feel the same way. Like about some of this stuff I wrote when I was in my 30s, why would I, there's no reason to believe to assume that I'm going to agree with that stuff today.
[00:55:35] Jordan Harbinger: What's this I hear about you taking, hiring a pilot to take you on a spiral dive, just to see what it feels like, so you could describe the feeling? That's really going to the next level. I was proud of my prep for this show. That is really the next level in terms of prep and research to write a paragraph.
[00:55:50] Malcolm Gladwell: Years ago, I wrote an article for the New Yorker about — remember when John F. Kennedy Jr. Crashed his plane?
[00:55:56] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:55:56] Malcolm Gladwell: And I wanted to understand, I wrote an article in the difference between choking and panicking and how they are profoundly different kinds of failure. And I wanted to describe, my argument was that what John F. Kennedy Jr. went through was — hold on. Was he choking and panicking? I can't even remember. I had long complicated. Anyway, the point was in order to describe how he failed I had to understand what happened to him. And so we know what happened to his plane. It went into spiral dive and a spiral dive is when your plane starts to kind of twist around and around and around, faster and faster and faster. And the weird thing is, and it's really hard to explain to someone who this is why I went on this spiral dive. When you're in the middle of a spiral dive, you don't know you're spiral diving. It feels normal. So the plane can be spinning around and around in the air, but if you're inside the plane and you can't see it, it's dark. If you can't see the horizon and see how you're spinning, you'll feel normal. So John F. Kennedy Jr. crashes his plane into the Atlantic in a spiral dive, he would not have been aware that his plane was headed into the water until it hit the water.
[00:57:05] And I was like, that's really weird. I want to feel what that's like. I got a pilot, the great writer, Langewiesche, Bill Langewiesche, who writes for the Atlantic. He was also a big pilot. And I said, "Will you take me up on your plane? You know, I'll buy the gas." And he's like, "Sure." "And will you take me into spiral dive?" "I will totally take you." So he ran spiral dive, and then, the last moment, we're like spiraling and we're heading into, this was over, in the San Francisco Bay. And at the very last moment he pulls out the dive and we feel the G force and I'm like, "How much longer? How close were we to like crashing the plane?" He was like, "Oh, about a second."
[00:57:45] Jordan Harbinger: No, that's ridiculous. That's ridiculous. Was he mess—? That sounds like he's messing with you. That's too close for comfort.
[00:57:52] Malcolm Gladwell: I think he was messing with me.
[00:57:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:57:53] Malcolm Gladwell: On the other hand, he knew what he was doing. I think, maybe he was saying we were about a second from being potentially in trouble because you know, eventually what happens is the G force has become such on a plane that it will often just break up in mid-air.
[00:58:07] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:58:08] Malcolm Gladwell: Because the stresses on as the plane goes right and around and faster and faster. But I did verify that you can be in a plane that is spinning around and around and you are completely unaware that you felt totally normal.
[00:58:20] Jordan Harbinger: I understand the impulse to want to check that because I can't really imagine. I'd like to think when I go on a roller coaster and it's twisting me around in a corkscrew, I'm very aware that I'm twisting around in a corkscrew. So I don't understand how I could be in a plane going much faster than a roller coaster and just not notice. So I guess I understand.
[00:58:38] Malcolm Gladwell: People were telling me this and I was like, "I don't believe you. I don't understand that." So that's why I had to do it. It was really fun. I was in the hands of an experienced pilot. I didn't think I was, you know, taking in great risks.
[00:58:49] Jordan Harbinger: I just didn't figure you for the daredevil type.
[00:58:51] Malcolm Gladwell: I'm rational about these kinds of things.
[00:58:53] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:58:54] Malcolm Gladwell: Would I've gone and flown across the Atlantic at dusk with John F. Kennedy, Jr.? No. I'm not getting into a plane with a rookie pilot, but I chose a guy who's like a guy with 30 years of flying under his belt. I calibrate my risks. I'm not a daredevil. I don't ski. I don't ride a motorcycle in the rain.
[00:59:13] Jordan Harbinger: In the rain, but you do ride otherwise?
[00:59:15] Malcolm Gladwell: I have on a couple of occasions, it's too much. You're riding, you're like, this is like, should be illegal and I'm going to kill myself because that's — so you know, cooler heads prevail after 10 minutes on a bike.
[00:59:27] Jordan Harbinger: You've got quite an analytical mind, I suppose. I don't know if that's, maybe that's not quite the right term, but do you ever think your life would have been easier if you thought less about things?
[00:59:37] Malcolm Gladwell: Not easier. I don't know. That's interesting. It wouldn't have been as fun. I mean, I find kind of solving or writing puzzles and learning new things just to be an enormously pleasurable activity. So it's hard to imagine my life would be easier without that source of pleasure. It sounds like my life would be dull, which would be harder, right?
[00:59:58] Jordan Harbinger: I suppose.
[00:59:59] Malcolm Gladwell: I'm not tortured by my thinking.
[01:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Not tortured by your thinking. I suppose it must have gotten you in trouble. The thing that makes you, who you are in terms of your body of work must also have gotten you in trouble at least once or twice in your life.
[01:00:12] Malcolm Gladwell: I'm not sure. That's true. I'm trying to think. I was a very mildly rebellious teenager. I always rebelled in very kind of — when I was in high school, our principal who we liked was transferred and so we arranged a protest on city hall, but it was all tongue in cheek. I mean, we bused half the school, 20 miles to city hall. And we made big banners and we gave these insincere speeches and it was all like, you know, it was harmless kind of, it wasn't real serious transgression. I'm not a seriously transgressive person. I'm more mischievous than I am transgressive.
[01:00:49] Jordan Harbinger: That must have been quite the compliment to that principal. I assume that will put a smile on your face for a few months when your students bused 20 miles and give these.
[01:00:56] Malcolm Gladwell: I'll tell you this. He knew that we were about to do it and didn't stop us.
[01:01:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:01:01] Malcolm Gladwell: Can you imagine we loaded 300, 400 students onto school buses, in the middle of a school day?
[01:01:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:01:09] Malcolm Gladwell: Took them 20 miles and marched on city hall without getting any, no parents were consulted, or just like it could never happen, of course, but it was a triumph of social engineering I think more than it was.
[01:01:23] Jordan Harbinger: I mean that's definitely not the typical kind of teenage rebellion. That's very on brand for you, I think, though, right? To have organized a protest about something that's all tongue in cheek, as opposed to like stealing a car and going for a joy ride, I feel like it's very on brand for you.
[01:01:38] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah, it was on brand. And then we made these giant posters that people carried the guy's name was Milliken, "Hell no, Milliken won't go," because remember this is the '70s. So like the Vietnam War is still like in the air. We had just read Macbeth, and so the school board president was called Lynn Wilson Croft. And one of the big banners was, "Wilson Croft, bloody scepter tyrant." And then, it was like that. That was the spirit of it.
[01:02:05] Jordan Harbinger: At least at that point, the board must go, "At least they're reading the classics. Maybe we shouldn't have transferred the guy. Look how educated and literate and cultured these kids are under his guidance."
[01:02:17] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. They transferred him but they got a chuckle. They got a chuckle.
[01:02:20] Jordan Harbinger: I heard you never budge on the title of a book or a podcast or something like that once you come up with it. Why what's going on there?
[01:02:27] Malcolm Gladwell: Is that true?
[01:02:28] Jordan Harbinger: You said that in your Masterclass. Yeah.
[01:02:31] Malcolm Gladwell: Maybe, yeah. I do pride myself on titles. And the thing that disappoints me most about podcast episodes is when I feel like the title doesn't do the episode justice.
[01:02:41] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:02:42] Malcolm Gladwell: So it is something I take seriously and I'm usually very collaborative in, you know, very open to other ideas, but I probably, yeah, I think that's probably true that I can be quite firm that this is the right. I think it's because, you know, titles are hugely, hugely important. Like massively under, there are books that I swear have been successes a hundred percent because they have brilliant titles.
[01:03:07] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[01:03:08] Malcolm Gladwell: Not because the book itself is bad, but there are many great books that a better way of saying it. There's a universe of great books that fail because they have a lousy title. So the choice of title is enormously central in explaining whether something makes it or doesn't. And yet people seem, they're very casual about it. They like come up with titles at the last moment. They say, you know, "Oh, we're going to press. And I got a week to figure out what my title is." I'm like, "Dude, a week? Are you kidding me? You should have been thinking about your title when you started the book."
[01:03:38] Jordan Harbinger: I'm getting anxiety, thinking about having to think of a title the week before the book publishes. And I mean that's, as you can imagine, not a lot of time was spent thinking about the title of this particular show, right? The Jordan Harbinger Show if—
[01:03:48] Malcolm Gladwell: No, but that's — it's the right title, right?
[01:03:52] Jordan Harbinger: Is it?
[01:03:53] Malcolm Gladwell: It is because you understood something intuitively about the medium, which is the medium is incredibly personal and that the reason people are tuning in is you, right? You are their chosen filter for all of this stuff. The same way that Joe Rogan's podcast has got to be called Joe Rogan. He's the filter. He's the reason. We want to see the world through his eyes. That's why we listen. So calling in something else, would needlessly, overthink the kind of problem you did it exactly right.
[01:04:24] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, well, that's good to hear because, of course, I was going to say, "Hey, if I was going to rename this podcast, what would the process look like?" I guess I can still ask that question. It's just that I might come to the same answer.
[01:04:35] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. I would say it has to be you. The question is what do you want. I had a fascinating conversation recently with this guy who's a life coach. He told me that he always begins his discussions with people by asking them what they want, which seems like a really obvious thing to ask. But he says surprising numbers of people can't answer that question and that always takes them back. You should be able to answer that question. So you should — what do you want from your career? What do you want? In this case, if you were to rename your podcast would say, "Well, what do you, what do you want this podcast to accomplish?" That should drive your title? What do you want readers or listeners to think when they tune in or what reasons do you want them to have for deciding to join your listening community? That want question is at the heart of all great titles, they satisfy the want question.
[01:05:30] Jordan Harbinger: It sounds like maybe, and again, maybe I'm reading into this too much. It sounds like when you create the title, you kind of, you're almost framing the work, right? Maybe it's just, I'm really going to butcher this metaphor, I suppose, but you're kind of putting boundaries on what you're going to create or what you are creating. Does that make sense?
[01:05:48] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. Makes total sense. I think you are framing it, which is why I spend so much time thinking about — you know, the title of my podcast, Revisionist History was something that I spent a lot of time thinking about. It was not popular among the people. When I first ran by the people I was doing this, they were like, "Really? You want to call it that?"
[01:06:08] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:08] Malcolm Gladwell: It does a very specific thing. What I wanted was I wanted to get people to understand that we were reexamining things, but I also wanted to the term revisionist history has a kind of disreputable patina, right?
[01:06:24] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:06:24] Malcolm Gladwell: And I wanted to reclaim that. I wanted people to understand that this was a mischievous look back. We're doing, quote-unquote, "revisionist history" on this thing. We're going to have fun. We're not doing dry and dusty recaps on something that happened 200 years ago. We're like doing wild speculation on why Will & Grace is the most important sitcom over the last four to five years. That's what we're doing. We're re-telling the end of the Little Mermaid. We have one episode, it's all about Akron, Ohio, and in a playful way talking about —
[01:06:55] Jordan Harbinger: Right. I heard that one in the preview that—
[01:06:57] Malcolm Gladwell: Oh, you did hear it?
[01:06:58] Jordan Harbinger: —your assistant sent me.
[01:06:59] Malcolm Gladwell: That's the game we're playing. And so the title, the fact that I'm winking at the reputable reputation of that term is central to what I want people to think about the podcast.
[01:07:14] Jordan Harbinger: So it seems like if you're framing the work or if you're framing the body of work that you're about to create, I guess, yeah, putting a frame or boundaries on what you're creating, that would be a big advantage, right? Because anything that falls outside of it, you can just, you can cut it and put it back in the mental drawer of things to use somewhere else.
[01:07:30] Malcolm Gladwell: Yeah. I mean, you do need sort of methods of organizing your thinking. Years ago I used to always say that most people are experienced rich and theory poor, which is a way of saying that what we lack are methods of organizing our experiences. I'm big on those kinds of organizing principles and a title is an organizing principle. It just reminds you, you know, what path you've set out on. And beginning with it, if you can start any creative project with the title you are so far ahead of the game. It's amazing.
[01:08:06] Jordan Harbinger: Well, I think, I'm glad that I accidentally got the name of the show right. I do wish I'd had this conversation before having to name the show, but hey, before I rename the show, I'm going to call you.
[01:08:16] But thank you once again for doing the show. I know I didn't let you off easy today with some of the questions, but always good to see you. And season seven of Revisionist History is coming out, well, probably out by the time you're listening to this. So make sure you go grab it.
[01:08:31] Malcolm Gladwell: Wonderful. Thank you so much. It was really fun to connect with you again. I'm glad you're continuing to do really well.
[01:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you.
[01:08:39] I've got a lot of thoughts on this episode, but before we get into that, here's what you should check out next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:08:48] Joe Navarro: There is no pill that cures malignant narcissism. There just isn't. You can't take a pill for it. Character flaws are fixed and rigid and they remain with us and it would take heroic efforts on the part of the person to overcome these things. Only they can fix themselves.
[01:09:09] Jordan Harbinger: The point is things will not get better, so document everything. The person with the best set of records of events wins.
[01:09:18] Joe Navarro: I have to be honest and say, look, as you said, Jordan, it's not going to get better. Things will get worse. And unfortunately, it usually does. And the person that pays the price are those that are closest to the malignant narcissist. Once I teach you to look for these behaviors, you will never forget them. You will be more aware and you will be able to notice them. And when we begin to accumulate these behaviors and we aggregate them and they go into that checklist, you know, there's 130 something items on the predator checklist, and you say, "Wow, this person tops 50." This individual will put you at risk. They will victimize you. It doesn't matter where you're at. There is no safe place. There is no safe church. All it takes is one predator to undo all of that.
[01:10:21] Jordan Harbinger: For more on dangerous personality types and how to spot them before they can do damage to you or those you love, check out episode 135 with Joe Navarro here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:10:31] A few notes here, some of which we covered last time, Malcolm and I talked, TV, television has made us worse at identifying emotions. For example, the show Friends, everybody had super strong emotions. They just were really transparent, really obvious. They wore them right on their face. If we watch enough TV, which we all kind of did growing up, we think this is what emotions are supposed to look like. And even if we didn't watch TV, chances are, we think emotions are really obvious. They are not. We think the way somebody looks and acts is the way that they feel. It's also not that. See also Amanda Knox, right? We have to tolerate a certain amount of error and ambiguity and mismatch and Malcolm calls this, the Friends fallacy, but is a few hours of TV or in some cases, maybe my case, a few hundred hours of TV, is that really enough to override something that we've evolved to detect, or is the idea here that we have not evolved to detect this at all, but television and now shysters chilling courses on YouTube, they just make us think that we can. I'm leaning towards that one personally.
[01:11:33] And if you love Malcolm's stuff, Malcolm's podcast, Revisionist History, season seven is now available. This season is all about experiments. So if you're into Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast, don't forget to go check out season seven, right after you finish binge-listening to a few more episodes of this show. Links to all things Malcolm Gladwell will be in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Books are always at jordanharbinger.com/books. Please use our website links if you buy books from the guests on the show, it does help support this show. Transcripts are in the show notes. The videos are on YouTube. All of the advertisers, deals, discount codes from everybody that you hear is all on the website at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who make this show possible. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or you can connect with me right there on LinkedIn.
[01:12:18] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use. That's our Six-Minute Networking course. That course is free. I don't even want your payment information. It's not one of those tricky ones. It's just actually free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:12:42] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who loves Malcolm Gladwell or thinks they can read people and is maybe open to another interpretation of that, share this episode with him. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:13:18] This episode is sponsored in part by The Prosecutors podcast. Are you interested in a true-crime podcast with a different point of view with hosts who've seen the justice system from the inside? Then you should check out The Prosecutors. In every episode, full-time prosecutors, Alice and Brett, discuss the most famous and debated true-crime mysteries like JonBenet Ramsey, Maura Murray, Scott Peterson, the Delphi murders. They'll bring details you won't hear anywhere else. The Prosecutors podcast is about more than just a story. Alice and Brett will walk you through the legal problems lurking behind every case, breaking down the complexities of the criminal justice system with humor and a personal touch. And it's not just true crime, they bring the same training and approach they've learned as prosecutors to classic mysteries, like the Dyatlov Pass incident and the ghost ship, Mary Celeste. So if you're looking for a true-crime podcast with a different point of view, the prosecutors is the one for you. Find it wherever you get your podcasts.
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