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Talbott Tidbits: Revisionist History, Season 5, Episode 8 - Hamlet Was Wrong

Article Author: Leah York, CAE, President of Talbott Talent

Most people who know me have heard me mention Malcolm Gladwell at some point -- I’m obsessed. Right now, I’m particularly fixated on his podcast, Revisionist History, which he describes as “a podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood.” It’s fantastic. What Gladwell shares causes me to think more critically and ask better questions – it activates my curiosity about everything I experience. I listen and re-listen, but the episode I’ve played most frequently is “Hamlet Was Wrong: Hiring Nihilism in Action”. It hurts my brain, but in a good way. Here are three ideas from this episode that I’m still pondering:

  1. Gladwell explores two approaches to choosing leaders:

    1. Hiring agnosticism: We should choose people at random for leadership positions, because anyone can do the job.

    2. Hiring nihilism: Not anyone can do the job -- there are good and bad leaders -- but the systems used to select them often don't work. This reminded me of an earlier episode -- Season 5, Episode 3: The Powerball Revolution -- where Gladwell interviewed Adam Cronkright, a democracy activist who has "made it his life's work to convince grade-school kids to choose their student governments by picking names out of a hat."

Both approaches are extreme, and definitely not methods we use. But are there elements of each that can be woven into the selection of leaders?

2. The Peter Principle, coined by Laurence J. Peter: “In any hierarchy an employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence, and that’s where he stays.” Satire or truth?

3. “Teams managed by the friendly people do 30% better than the teams managed by superstars,” Gladwell reports. So why do we promote the superstars? And what’s the downside when we don’t?

I want to know your thoughts on these ideas, too. Leave a comment on this post and we can start a discussion.

Bonus! Book Recommendation: Gladwell reached a new level of awesomeness when he recorded his latest book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, in the style of his podcast, complete with interviews and news clips. Check out the audio version!


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