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[Review] What The Dog Saw: And Other Adventures

Malcolm Gladwell has an uncanny talent. Like a detective, he weaves a compelling yarn, spinning together sources of information from psychologists, food testers, doctors, animal trainers, criminologists, and other experts to challenge common notions.

With journalistic brilliance honed by his years in the New Yorker, Gladwell proffers radical answers to challenge age-old notions in his latest bestselling volume “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures“. A compilation of 19 essays on a wide range of topics – espionage, war, hair color, kitchen appliances, homelessness and more – the volume blends pop psychology, sociology, management and current affairs in a highly readable prose.

In Part One – Obsessives, Pioneers and Other Varieties of Minor Genius – Gladwell introduces you to a eclectic and eccentric cast of characters. Meet Ron Popeil, a master pitchman of the kitchen appliances variety, and Nassim Taleb, a financial trader with a philosophical bent who later wrote bestselling Black Swan.

In True Colors, Gladwell explains how advertising hair dye represented the prevailing socio-cultural conditions of women during the post war years, educates you on the nuances of good and bad dog behaviours in cover story What the Dog Saw, and proposes in John Rock’s Error that the birth control pill can possibly improve the health of the fairer gender.

Part Two – Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses – suggests various hypotheses dealing with matters such as military intelligence, industrial accidents, corporate failures and more. Humanity’s failure to see the right things are repeated highlighted in stories which explore the failure of Enron, the problem of homelessness, and the difference between panicking and choking. The fallibility of the Israeli military intelligence, as do the devastating September 11 attacks, are similarly tackled.

On a personal note, Gladwell raises in Something Borrowed the tricky problem of plagiarism. Here he displays magnanimity by forgiving the creator of the hit broadway play Frozen in the name of creativity. The producer Bryony Lavery quoted liberally from his own work – an article on psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis in the New Yorker – without acknowledgement.

The Final Part on Personality, Character and Intelligence looks at the evaluations one makes about others, citing educators, job interviews, talents and criminals. Here, he tries to debunk age-old techniques in assessing people and offers to shine new light.

In a chapter on The New Boy Network for instance, he expounds on why human chemistry oriented HR interviews are flawed, preferring instead questions which probed how a job candidate would manage real life situations. The final story on Troublemakers teaches us that we should not adopt a simple, easy to implement solution when the truth may be far more complex.

Overall, “What the Dog Saw” combines Gladwell’s intellectual wit with a compelling narrative par none. I found myself turning the pages rapidly, devouring every morsel aimed at making me feel cleverer about myself.

While some of his suppositions do seem to bear merit, one should adopt the author’s own cynicism and skepticism while reading his work. Embrace the volume as an entertaining mind tickling tour de force rather than the gospel truth, and you’ll be fine.

Walter is a seasoned marketer and publicist with almost 19 years of experience in marketing, communications, social media engagement, events management, strategic planning and corporate development. A judge of the Singapore Blog Awards, he blogs at Cooler Insights.

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