Friday, March 11, 2011

Glad and Well

How does he do it? Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, all Malcolm Gladwell publications. It's a wonderful thing to see and hear and be engaged by a humble and brilliant person who softly commands and engages others on a different level. Malcolm opened the mic for questions during the second half of his presentation and did not disappoint. The first part of his presentation weaved together historical accounts of the US battle between the north and south slavery plight together with the recent financial crisis. Unfolding the fall of overconfident experts leading the way, ones who we put trust and faith in to do the right thing, was the emergent theme, the caution, the view from a journalistic perspective.

Prior to going to this event, we sat for dinner, excited to hear what he would say, interested in what he was about, curious about his underlying motivations, ready to challenge, with high and few expectations.

Assumptions and preconceived notions were turned upside down, challenges were quieted, and minds were inspired. Malcolm explained that he was a journalist, not an expert, not an activist, but one who reports on what he sees, hears, reads, taking fact and circumstance to build connections into meaning. This seemed to quell tension, to sooth hearts and minds to open willingly so that his message could be heard. It made him, his ideas, his knowledge, accessible to the audience. He shared complex ideas in simple, understandable ways.

The question period embraced a transparent and open dialogue with an impact far greater than the questions and answers themselves. It provided interaction and involvement from the masses, us regular people with normal lives who are affected by the big decisions made at levels that we are not a part of. It provided an opportunity for us to nurture and test our assumptions, explore connections, reveal the genius that lurks in coffee houses and at kitchen tables around the country. It provided awareness of what surrounds us on a daily basis, a desire and ability to be heard, a movement of the mind and of the power of story-telling.

Our after event discussion was sharpened and blasted open a plethora of ideas and laughter, thoughtful reflection and satisfaction.

It's our responsibility to keep experts/leaders and ourselves in check by questioning, creating systems that allow for transparency, dialogue and openness to ensure humility. To do this we need diverse opinions, expertise and experiences that affect decision-making so that catastrophic decisions are diverted. If our 'inner circles' are rich in diversity we have a better shot. Paraphrasing Malcolm, ignorance and stupidity from someone who is ignorant is just stupidity that can be dismissed but ignorance and stupidity from experts is catastrophic.