Jay Cross
Jay Cross

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First Impression
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Look closely at this man.

What do you think?
What kind of person might he be?

I took the photo myself. He really looks like this.

Got your first impression down?

Good. Then read on.

This is Malcolm Gladwell.

He wrote
The Tipping Point. After growing the 'fro, the police profiled him. Several times. He contemplated what goes into first impressions. He writes about it in his new book, Blink. An article in Fast Company, The Accidental Guru, describes Malcolm's logic:
While most of us would like to think our decision making is the result of rational deliberation, he argues that most of it happens subconsciously in a split second. This process -- which Gladwell dubs 'rapid cognition' -- is where room for both error and insight appears. Many of the snap judgments we make are based on previously formed impressions and are competing with subconscious biases such as emotions and projections. Once we become aware of this, Gladwell argues, we can learn to control rapid cognition by extracting meaning from a 'thin slice' of information.
Gladwell discovered that the vast majority of their CEOs were at least 6 feet tall (only about 14.5% of all American men are 6 feet or taller). What does this say about the way we hire? "We have a sense of what a leader is supposed to look like," he writes. "And that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations."
So that's why I've never been offered a Fortune 500 CEO slot. (I'm 5'8" on a tall day.)

Malcolm gets $40,000 for a presentation. If I remember correctly, he's not more than 5'8" himself. Hey, I'll do a presentation for you for a mere $20,000.

By the way, the few times I've chatted with Malcolm, I've found him to be a totally charming, down to earth guy. Even when I asked about the hair: "Did you stick your finger in a light socket?"


Blogger Harold Jarche said...

OK Jay, I'll play your game. I'll do a presentation for mere $10,000 ;-)

8:43 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

so Jay - how do you think rapid cognition plays with something like the concept of continuous partial attention?

4:31 AM  
Blogger jay said...

Continuous partial attention.

Mark, CPA is a choice, not a given, and I don't see how it applies here. I didn't carry my cell phone yesterday. Nobody has my cell number anyway; I only give out my land line number, and I forward to the cell when I want to accept mobile calls. Otherwise, you can talk with my answering machine.

Microsoft researcher Linda Stone, who coined this CPA meme, says, "If being fulfilled is about committing yourself to someone else, or some experience, that requires a level of sustained attention." I disagree.

CPA is a temporary condition brought about by immature technology. Computers that make us dumb. Before too long, we'll shift the burden of partial attention from our heads to the machines. Instead of indiscriminently routing all pings directly to me, systems will screen the inputs for me. Picture Caller ID on steroids. It will learn that I never want to talk with cold-calling securities salesmen but that I'll always take a call from Mom.

An aside: I have a faux-phrasebook called Italian for the Traveler. The words to tell someone on a train to leave you alone are Parliamo della sua assicurazioni, literally "Let's discuss your insurance needs." I want that built into my screening set-up.

This is sense & respond. Instead of dedicating a sliver of my consciousness to checking for phonecalls from Mom, I assign Mom a priority that always lets her penetrate my personal firewall so I can focus my consciousness on what I'm doing at the moment. Autonomous message processing. AMP.

Some activities call for full attention. "When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes." To maintain full attention, you must understand and exercise control over your environment. When I'm writing, like right now, I do not listen to music; the distraction upsets my train of thought. When I'm driving, I always listen to music -- unless I'm on the phone or listening to NPR.

What scares me is what happens when 24/7 surveillance technology falls into the hands/paws of the Pointy-Haired Boss and Catbert the HR Director. I'm sure they'll disagree with my opinion that hanging out the electronic "Do Not Disturb" sign is a fundamental human right.

So, Mark, the only tie I see between CPA and rapid cognition is the potential for missing opportunities because your stupid personal firewall keeps out things you be drawn to intuitively. Am I guilty of making a snap judgment here?

8:58 AM  
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7:38 PM  

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