New Yorker writer and best selling author, Malcolm Gladwell gave the closing keynote at Convergence 2011 in Atlanta today. Drawing from the extensive research that has resulted in his four books, Gladwell spoke about the role of technology in assisting human decision making.
In his remarks the writer made it clear that when humans abandon their decision making responsibilities to machines the results are not optimal and he made much the same case for decision making augmented by emotion. Drawing on examples as far afield as medicine, sports, police work and classical music he wove together a story of how technology can aid decision making by building transparency into processes we use and by exposing innate biases that decision makers may not even be aware they have.
The talk seemed to validate the strategies many companies are adopting to gather data about their internal business processes as well as customer data and then analyze it. The analysis can help clear out extraneous data or “noise” so that users can make more informed decisions by focusing on the information that is truly important.
Much of the talk seemed to be centered on Gladwell’s work for his book Blink, a book that examines how people make decisions in a moment seemingly without thought. It is impossible to recreate the talk here and that’s not my point. If you were present for the event you witnessed something special. If you slept in this morning you can always enjoy one of his books on the flight home.
My most interesting take away was an unscripted comment given in answer to an audience question in which the writer scoffed at some of the more exaggerated claims of social media advocates. To paraphrase him, it’s not the answer to all the world’s problems. Of course, he’s right and if we take the advice in the rest of his talk we’ll use technology to sift through the massive amount of data that we generate to discover new insights which will be extremely valuable.