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Malcolm Gladwell & Steven Levitt - The Growth Faculty Event Highlights


Nearly 2000 turned out to see best-selling authors and “thinking person’s pin-ups” Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Levitt in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.

The Growth Faculty event “The Future: Disrupted & Reimagined” in early December 2017 included well-known Australian broadcaster Adam Spencer as an MC and question time facilitator.

Described by TED as the “Detective Of Fads And Emerging Subcultures”, Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times best-sellers, including Tipping Point and The Outliers, an investigation of what sets successful people apart from the rest of the population.

Known for his curiosity, Gladwell told the engaged audiences that time for reflection didn’t happen naturally today.

Making time for deep thinking is a responsibility we must take seriously,” he said.

One well-received story of his own deep thinking was around philanthropy disproportionately going to wealthy colleges.  

If billionaires don't step up, Harvard will soon be down to its last $30 billion…..If these guys could tattoo their names on the foreheads of the poor they would be more likely to give to them. Apple only makes $13 billion per year, and people like their products more than Harvard's,” Gladwell said.  

Malcolm Gladwell also discussed weakest links, in both a sporting and wider context.  

He showed a video of a football team making 42 passes before shooting a goal and discussed at length why coaches should focus on improving the skills of the weakest player in mistake-driven teams (team dependent eg. football) versus improving the skills of the strongest player in non-mistake teams (solo eg. basketball).

Customer satisfaction is like soccer, it’s only as good as your weakest link.  You're as good as your weakest link.... and your strongest,” he explained to the audience.

Gladwell said the world was becoming a weak link game….and that women might be the solution.

Women are well suited to highly collaborative and non-hierarchical contexts. Hire more women and focus on gender parity to improve in a weak link world,” he said.  

Malcolm Gladwell was followed on stage by Steven Levitt, co-author of the best-selling book Freakonomics (2005) and its sequels Superfreakonomics (2009) and Think Like A Freak (2014).

The American economist is known for his work analysing data in the field of crime, in particular on the link between legalised abortion and crime rates.

He spoke about the need to consider how data is analysed.

Data is not a substitute for an idea, ” he said. “ We need talent to look into data. The right way to use data is to use it in simple ways so non-data driven people  can understand it. You can only go so far analysing data before you need to let a human make a messy decision. Over reliance on the power of data leads to the lack of reliance on the power of thinking.”

Levitt’s speech also touched on the joy of quitting.

When in doubt, quit! The empirical data supports making a change 60-40,” he told audiences. “It is statistically proven that quitting your job or making significant life changes leads to greater happiness. Not taking action and making that change is more likely to leave you in a permanent state of hyperbolic anxiety. Embrace quitting, it will change your life!

The Growth Faculty event was highly rated by event goers, one took to Twitter to say that she was “spellbound”.

The tweet by @lislpietersz  read “Spellbound by the stories I’m hearing from M Gladwell & S Levitt & the connections/insights they draw between apparently disconnected things.”

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