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I'm good at that, I must be good at this too....
July 27, 2009 5:10 AM   Subscribe


 
May I be the first to say that I believe Malcolm Gladwell is overconfident of his ability to write about science well.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:14 AM on July 27, 2009 [14 favorites]


Apparently a key component of overconfidence is homophobia.
posted by adipocere at 5:21 AM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ugh. If I'd happened to notice that Malcolm Gladwell had written this article, I would not have bothered to read it. Is he going to write about the act of belabouring the obvious next, using himself and his work as his anecdotal "evidence"? Because it seems like he's working towards that.
posted by orange swan at 5:24 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting that Gladwell reached back to Gallipoli to illustrate his point. Surely Iraq stands as a classic example of over confidence.
posted by mattoxic at 5:38 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it just me, or did this seem like an overly wordy excuse not to call arrogance arrogance?

I would bet there is a major helping of the Dunning Kruger effect involved in the massive overconfidence noted in the article.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:43 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Feh. I'm sure I don't need to read this. Or even preview the other comments before typing this.
posted by el_lupino at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Oh I think the quotes from Cayne are worth reading. It's like "Wow, so bigtime CEO's really talk exactly like how I imagine them to in my head."
posted by molecicco at 5:52 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Feh. I'm sure I don't need to read this. Or even preview the other comments before typing this.

See, because I was being all overconfident in myself, ironically something that I would have been more aware of had I read the article...

The joke didn't work, did it? I was overconfident about its potential...
posted by el_lupino at 6:00 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah... yes... mmm. Is it worse to have to explain a joke or to have it explained to you? This thread is keeping my confidence in check on multiple levels.
posted by molecicco at 6:03 AM on July 27, 2009


Oh I think the quotes from Cayne are worth reading. It's like "Wow, so bigtime CEO's really talk exactly like how I imagine them to in my head."
posted by molecicco at 8:52 AM on July 27


Well, the bad ones clearly do. This isn't overconfidence, it's arrogance. It's one thing to be David and think that because of your secret slingshot weapon you can take down Goliath. It's another thing to be a Wall Street investment bank and run it into the fucking ground because you don't know what the fuck you are doing. I honestly don't think Coyne could run a lemonade stand, let alone a bank.

"This guy thinks he’s got a big dick. He’s got nothing, except maybe a boyfriend. " Really, last I checked, he was Secretary of the Treasury, and you were the one who had nothing. Christ on a fucking pony, I want to kick this guy's ass.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:11 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Needs a link to Adam Elga's definitive papers "On overrating oneself... and knowing it" and "I can't believe I'm stupid."
posted by escabeche at 6:14 AM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't know why I read these things, they makes me so ANGRY.

As a woman who has worked at a company that was ruined by just such arrogance, it reminds me of what I've known all along. The emperor has no clothes.

I've always thought this attitude was a chauvinistic man thing. You get a white male, born around the same time I was, in the early sixties. Everything handed to them on a silver platter, just because they were white men.

Not exceptionally smart, not exceptionally savvy, not exceptionally anything, except GREAT at golf and schmoozing. It would be one thing if they realized that it was the luck of their birth that allowed them to be in the right place at the right time, but NO. They have to believe that they are brilliant because a high tide raised their boat.

Suddenly, they're in a position of power at a large American company and they do what they've always done. Believing that because they are deciding; that it's automatically right. No analysis, or if there's analysis, disregarding it because the person providing it isn't white, or a man, or a white man who plays golf and schmoozes.

It's no mystery to me why it was women who blew the whistle on MCI and Enron. SOMEONE had to say something, and the boys were too busy out on the links, smoking Cohibas and slapping each other on the back about how great they were.

American business works in spite of the men who run it, not because of it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:32 AM on July 27, 2009 [23 favorites]


Will a potentially interesting thread about corporate psychology be derailed by blatant gender trolling? Tune in and find out!
posted by Afroblanco at 6:54 AM on July 27, 2009 [15 favorites]


I admire Gladwell's work, but his recent New Yorker articles have been very glib and under-researched, and this one is no exception. Take his treatment of the Gallipoli campaign, which he regards as a 'brilliant and daring strategy' let down by over-confidence and complacency. He quotes Winston Churchill's damning description of Sir Frederick Stopford, the commander of the Suvla Bay landing, as a 'placid, prudent, elderly English gentleman' who squandered his strategic advantage. (Incidentally, Gladwell misspells it 'Sulva Bay' -- New Yorker fact-checkers, where are you?) And this enables Gladwell to package the whole story into a neat little parable of self-help. Do you have brilliant and daring ideas? Well, here's how to make them succeed! All you need to do is cultivate the right mental attitude -- here, let me show you how ..

An alternative interpretation of the Gallipoli campaign is that it should never have been launched in the first place. A more critical reading of the sources would also show that Churchill's account is hardly an impartial one -- since Churchill, as the main architect of the Gallipoli campaign, was trying to exonerate himself by putting all the blame on the commanders in the field. But that, of course, wouldn't suit Gladwell's purpose, as it might suggest that the failure of the Gallipoli campaign wasn't just a 'failure to adapt' but a failure to make the right decisions. And that would strike at the root of Gladwell's whole argument, as it would suggest that the Gallipoli campaign has its own historical specificity and can't be boiled down to a simple lesson in the 'psychology of overconfidence' which can then be applied with impunity to the collapse of Bear Stearns, the invasion of Iraq or any other scenario you care to name.
posted by verstegan at 7:12 AM on July 27, 2009 [16 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny: I'm a man, and rather white. I'm aware that I'm privileged, not so much because of that, but because of having been born to caring, educated, moderately affluent parents in a developed country.

Nevertheless, just because I'm aware of my lottery-winner luck, I've always worked my arse off to improve myself and the life of others. And, far from being the most self-confident of people, I'm prone to severe self-doubt.

Now, I've known my share of privileged prigs (mostly male, but also including the occasional female) who, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, manage to create chaos and mayhem around them through their arrogant and over-confident manner. The most self-aware of them acted so arrogantly secure in their belief that, no matter how badly they'd fuck up and screw other people's lives, they'd always keep their heads well above the water. But the large majority weren't even aware of the fact that other people's problems can be bigger than theirs.

And I've also known a number of people who, despite not being particularly privileged, gifted or affluent, were also capable of the most boneheaded acts of overconfidence.

Idiocy isn't particularly tied to a class or gender. Indeed, I wish wealth, education and health were as well distributed as stupidity...
posted by Skeptic at 7:13 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


verstegan -- that's sort of my typical complaint about Gladwell. His writing is good and he typically makes solid points, but he has this tendency to torture his evidence into telling whatever story he wants. Which is strange, because I want to be like, "Dude, you know you can pick which anecdotes make it into your book...." Instead he'll throw in some evidence that only sort of supports his thesis (and sometimes even contradicts it), and then he'll try to shoehorn it in.

Nonetheless, he's definitely introduced me to a lot of new ideas, especially in Blink and Outliers.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


SLGT
posted by takeyourmedicine at 7:18 AM on July 27, 2009


Hmm... here's a position I thought I'd never take...
@Ruthless Bunny: As a white man who provides analysis, golfs (poorly), and shmoozes (but not overly so), I can say it isn't my whiteness or maleness that helps my data nor makes those that make decisions choose to use it. I am the quintessential worker bee.

Management uses the information I provide obviously, or they don't (and only use it as reference). Sometimes its cost prohibitive, time inhibitive, or priority inhibitive advice and information I provide. Most of the time though its spot on and they take it - but we're not here to discuss that case.

Even if the data that I provide tells exactly the opposite of the decisions that are made or are being made someone - right or wrong makes that call. I neither have to like nor support that decision. What is important as a result to the analysis that I provide and management's assessment of its importance is my ability to adapt to the decisions which they do make - and my ability to provide insight as to the effects of their continued decisions.

If management shows ineptitude, part of my failure as a worker bee was of making it clear as to the total impact of failing to notice my data - part of that's flash, part of that's glamour, but way more if it is my ability to sell my statment. I have good managers who are capable. I picked my company based on being surrounded by good people laterally, above, and below me. If the day comes when my opinion is not only invalidated - but I feel completely discredited and ignored by my employer - well... while I doubt that day will come - I assure you that I would be finding a company and employer I could believe in (they exist).
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:23 AM on July 27, 2009


Ms Vegetable used to be a rate analyst at a major property insurance company. Sometimes she would come home and recount a meeting which went like this:

ANALYST: We started by fixing the company's database of losses, customer data, and premiums; turns out that it was designed by someone on coke. After that, we implemented the following advanced statistical methodology which is 200% better than the previous software you were using. While validating with other firms filings, we discovered several mistakes in their reporting to the department of insurance; that should give us a nice edge in this round. After huge amounts of work, we have inferred that the needed rate hike is 8%.
BOSS: I was hoping for 2%. Lackey, can we do 2% instead?
LACKEY: Sure thing, Boss!

Would have been cheaper and easier on her blood pressure to just make up the number to start with.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:47 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's no mystery to me why it was women who blew the whistle on MCI and Enron.

And yet it was a man who was screaming for years that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme and it was a woman who was in a position to do something and didn't, going as far as to stop an already existing investigation. What can we extrapolate from that? My best guess is two parts of fuck all.

Ding, ding, try again!
posted by ob at 7:50 AM on July 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


And we know that all female executives are empathic, caring nurturers who would never engage in the sort of aggressive risk-taking behavior we see in Cayne, et al.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:55 AM on July 27, 2009


Far more interesting, and equally pertinent in these depressive times, is the psychology of underconfidence. A recent study -

Oh, who am I kidding, pretending to be an expert? My links suck.

I suck. I'm such a big fat impostor...I never should have stopped lurking...
posted by Iridic at 7:55 AM on July 27, 2009 [20 favorites]


This lecture transcript by Berkshire Hathaway exec Charles Munger, linked on Ask today, is a near perfect example of the overconfident style. Any novelist who wrote dialogue as magnificently characterizing as this would be justly lionized.
posted by escabeche at 8:01 AM on July 27, 2009


Is it ironic that women object to men being in charge largely because of their self confidence, yet this same quality is one of the main items women favor when selecting them as mates?
posted by digsrus at 8:18 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


tl;dr
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 8:21 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's right. You saw what I did there, didn't you.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 8:25 AM on July 27, 2009


But what if I have confidence in sunshine and in rain?
posted by The Whelk at 8:32 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


So the world financial crisis took place because CEOs paid Malcolm Gladwell huge sums to tell them what to do?
posted by lukemeister at 8:37 AM on July 27, 2009


Oh gosh, I think I may have put my foot in it.

I didn't mean to imply that only white men are boneheads. There is plenty of boneheadedness to go around.

I also didn't mean to imply that all white men are boneheads. Certainly, that's not true either.

However, there is a certain type of person who rises to the top of most American enterprises. That is the guy I described.

Now, if a woman were to rise to the top of a company wherein the typical buffoon white guy has predominated, chances are, she'll be a typical buffoon white (or otherwise) chick. (Carly Fiorina I'm talking about you!)

The problem is the ingrained level of privilege afforded the executive type. And to date, the executive type is the white guy I was talking about.

I did work for MCI, so I'm especially burned. Bernie Ebbers is the epitome of this crap. Of course, when I started Bill McGowan was the antithesis of idiot white guy. He was brilliant, compassionate and inspiring. Frankly, he was the exception. This is why he kicked AT&T's ass. He was everything they weren't.

I'm sure there are a handful of captains of industry, white guys all, who do their jobs well. But since most American companies are still headed up by the typical white guy, our economy will continue to depend on less than the best corporate leadership.

It's not like Corporate America has a diverse population of CEO's. Look around. White guys. I'm just sayin'.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:37 AM on July 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yeah, that's right. You saw what I did there, didn't you.

Naw, I don't read acronyms over 3 letters.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


My mancrush on Gladwell has long-since ebbed. I am back to muddling through with figuring out life on my own now.
posted by Danf at 8:45 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I'd happened to notice that Malcolm Gladwell had written this article, I would not have bothered to read it.

I saw the article title, saw that the link went to the New Yorker, and immediately assumed that Gladwell had written it.

Take his treatment of the Gallipoli campaign, which he regards as a 'brilliant and daring strategy' let down by over-confidence and complacency.

I remember travelling to Turkey right around Anzac Day, and there were plenty of features on the Gallipoli campaign. You just take one look at what the proposed strategy was, and you can't help but think, "Did they look at a map of their invasion plans?" Gallipoli wasn't a brilliant idea hobbled by overconfidence. The idea of invading Gallipoli was, itself, conceived in overconfidence.
posted by deanc at 9:00 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ruthless Bunny I still disagree with your emphasis on "white guys", but now we are getting more in tune.

In my opinion, the population of executive boards follows a strictly Darwinian evolution. It's "survival of the fittest", but not the fittest in terms of providing the biggest profits for the company, or return of investment for investors, never mind providing for the employees or for society as a whole. It's survival of those with the mindset fittest to perpetuate selection of those with an identical mindset to executive positions, in a "selfish gene/meme" manner. That's why executive boards tend to end up filled with narcissists with very similar careers, backgrounds, and yes, race and gender.

Of course, what evolutionary biology teaches us is that species can be fairly stable as long as the environment to which they've adapted themselves stays the same. Sudden environmental changes then bring evolutionary disruption. This crisis may be the meteorite that fells a number of dinosaurs (corporations), regardless of how well-adapted they were to previous environmental conditions.

However, before you get your hopes up, if I maintain the parallel to evolutionary biology, extinction of a species does not necessarily mean extinction of a gene. Indeed, "old genes" may in a way associate themselves to new genes in order to survive. In other words: even if a number of corporative dinosaurs will meet their end in the next years, I'm afraid that pushy-middle-aged-white-guy-with-an-MBA-and-a-golf-club-membership is there to stay for a longuish while...
posted by Skeptic at 9:04 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


My mancrush on Gladwell has long-since ebbed. I am back to muddling through with figuring out life on my own now.

Mefi Exclusive!

An Excerpt from the forthcoming Muddle: How Vague Plans and Hazy Half-Thoughts Created The Industrial Revolution, Defeated Communism and Put This Shiteating Grin On My Face (& How It Can Help You Find Your Own Grin!) by Malcolm Gladwell

"When the Visigoths handed the Roman Empire its collective ass at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, it was understood to be the very Platonic ideal of a clear sense of purpose triumphing over the muddled thinking of decadent late Rome. 'Would it profit the empire,' wrote the general's aide Pithy the Younger in his diary on the eve of the decisive attack, 'that I should thoroughly sort our columns by age and height, or might it not be better simply to dig a pit and fill it with affordable prostitutes of the most lascivious kind? Would our soldiers prefer a tidy column or to have their own columns tidied, if you catch my classical drift. Oh, it is indeed to fine a day for such decisions . . .' The Visigoths, meanwhile, sharpened their swords all that night on the bones of the vanquished and dreamed only of pillage. The outcome was surely preordained.

"But recent evidence suggests the opposite was true. The Visigoths in fact suffered from a kind of neurocranial virus that made the very air in front of their eyes appear clouded with mist, and their barbaric howls were apparently actually a time-honoured battlefield navigational emergency signal, roughly akin to you or I asking, 'Dude, where's my car?' The Romans, meanwhile, took to the battlefield in formations so precise that astronomers continued to use the footprints left in the field to calibrate their instruments well into the seventeenth century. The goths, running literally blind, cut through those orderly Roman columns like scythes through a field of terminator-gene wheat. The Romans lost not because they'd lost their way but because they'd become too certain they'd found it. It turned out that not knowing where the fuck you were going or why was the better strategy. And the implications for modern business and my palatial new property in East Hampton are nothing short of epochal."
posted by gompa at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2009 [70 favorites]


@Ruthless Bunny

I was about to go off on you; good thing I previewed first. Still, I think your emphasis on the "white male privilege" as a factor is pretty unnecessary and irrelevant. After all, even though the article portrays Cayne as an arrogant asshole, it mentions that he rose to the top from a fairly modest start (i.e. selling photocopiers in Idaho and Nevada).
posted by Edgewise at 9:11 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, we need a new acronym for these kinds of posts: SLMG.
posted by Edgewise at 9:13 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Although I thought the article was poorly written, I found the reference to bridge rather interesting. Too bad Gladwell didn't do much with it beyond the anecdotes.
posted by tommasz at 9:18 AM on July 27, 2009


I was sorely disappointed by the lack of psychology in that article.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:20 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


My company's CEO is a black woman. She just succeeded a white woman who brought the company back from the brink of extinction. Here's where it gets interesting. That white woman succeeded a white male CEO who had come back for a second term after his appointed white male successor reorganized the company's salesforce so poorly they spent all their time in the office dealing with overhead and not selling. During this second term he also presided over a major accounting scandal that resulted in fines to the SEC of over $22 million and almost put a major accounting firm out of business. The white male CFO during this period is permanently banned from holding corporate office in the US.

The boys all got nice packages when they left (voluntarily or otherwise), of course.
posted by tommasz at 9:46 AM on July 27, 2009


It appears that having exhausted the overarching reasons for success, Mr. Gladwell is now defining failure.
posted by Pragmatica at 9:52 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Will a potentially interesting thread about corporate psychology be derailed by blatant gender trolling? Tune in and find out!

It's not blatant gender trolling if it's accurate and I think Ruthless Bunny pretty much nails it. I'm white, male, born in 1959, reasonably privileged situation. I grew up with these guys and, if I hadn't taken a deliberate detour roundabout high school's end (art, drugs, punk rock etc) I'd no doubt still be hanging with them (as they still do with each other), sharing a much of the same "abundance of confidence". As it is, my world still occasionally intersects theirs (high school reunions, the odd wedding or funeral) and I'm always amused (bordering on disgusted) at their, to paraphrase Ruthless Bunny, arrogant belief in their own brilliance.

Don't get me wrong. One-on-one, they're just regular middle-aged men, working through divorces, worried about their kids, bragging about their new car ... but collectively, you just get a sense of generalized "Ayn Randian ugliness" (for lack of a better phrase). Case in point, the quick and hungry need to blame the current meltdown on yes, certain bad-actors in the business world, but it's really the poor who are somehow to blame ...
posted by philip-random at 10:09 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not exceptionally smart, not exceptionally savvy, not exceptionally anything, except GREAT at golf and schmoozing.

No Wall Street CEO is great at golf. And schmoozing? That may get you a Worker Bee of the Month award and a desk job in Moundville, Iowa but the top job at an investment bank? Forget it. The missing third quality which makes all the difference, which rules out 99.999% of us: Exceptional intensity. To be a Wall Street CEO, you're willing to fuck concrete with a sore dick. Your ass is a spinning dynamo that generates ten kilovolts for frying your enemies. You'd nail gun your own family and then your own eyeballs rather than lose.
posted by storybored at 10:12 AM on July 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


I haven't read the article, but I've seen a lot of people trashing it. Actually since Gladwell's last book was about how people in power were mostly in power because of their good luck I noticed the pushback was in two forms. Who were not on the top of society, like bloggers, mefi posters and the like just thought it was all painfully obvious, too obvious to write a book about. On the other hand, people who were actually in the elite of society or friends with them seemed to think the book was all BS and resented the implication that they were just ordinary people who just got lucky.

But in this case, It's hard to imagine that anyone could think that these bankers weren't suffering from overconfidence. Overconfidence is something that should have been taken into account by regulators.
posted by delmoi at 10:14 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


but it's really the poor who are somehow to blame ...

Because they started all of this with their sub-prime mortgages. It wasn't bankers making dumb loans, it was people asking for them.

Oh, and the bank can get bailed out, but not the folks in over their heads with shitty loans.

Nice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:15 AM on July 27, 2009


It's not blatant gender trolling if it's accurate and I think Ruthless Bunny pretty much nails it.

No. She blamed Teh White Man for all of our problems, which is an exceptionally lazy thing to do, especially on a place like MeFi where she knows that she won't get flamed for it. And then she goes out of her way to point out that WOMEN were the whistle-blowers in these two anecdotal cases, because obviously men are never whistle-blowers and women are just naturally more honest like that.

She partially redeems herself in her follow-up comment, but then wrecks it all with :
"It's not like Corporate America has a diverse population of CEOs. Look around. White guys. I'm just sayin'."

Which assumes that we wouldn't have had a financial crises if American corporations had more diverse leadership -- which is unprovable and unproven. Those CEOs and CFOs were following the conventional wisdom at the time, same as all the subprime borrowers who thought that housing values would never go down.

Don't get me wrong, I am strongly in favor of workplace and executive diversity -- but only because it's fairer to groups of people and individuals. I am not under the impression that it would prevent financial catastrophes or even make people more honest.

In short, Ruthless Bunny, your lazy, sexist, one-sided rant got a lot of favorites because this is Metafilter and your words concur with the majority opinion. What you posted was bullshit, and I called you on it.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:34 AM on July 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


ANALYST: We started by fixing the company's database of losses, customer data, and premiums; turns out that it was designed by someone on coke. After that, we implemented the following advanced statistical methodology which is 200% better than the previous software you were using. While validating with other firms filings, we discovered several mistakes in their reporting to the department of insurance; that should give us a nice edge in this round. After huge amounts of work, we have inferred that the needed rate hike is 8%.
BOSS: I was hoping for 2%. Lackey, can we do 2% instead?
LACKEY: Sure thing, Boss!
It's funny. If I remember The Black Swan correctly, I'm pretty sure Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote an entire book about how short sighted the "ANALYST" in this story is, because all attempts at making predictions are useless, and how we all need to look at and think about "The Big Picture," like how the "BOSS" does.
posted by deanc at 10:43 AM on July 27, 2009


Afroblanco: verstegan -- that's sort of my typical complaint about Gladwell. His writing is good and he typically makes solid points, but he has this tendency to torture his evidence into telling whatever story he wants. Which is strange, because I want to be like, "Dude, you know you can pick which anecdotes make it into your book...." Instead he'll throw in some evidence that only sort of supports his thesis (and sometimes even contradicts it), and then he'll try to shoehorn it in.

This is a perfect way to describe why I can't stand Gladwell. So much of Blink read like he came up with his Grand Unifying Theory of human behavior, and then picked as many random anecdotes as he could find and pretended that they all supported his thesis. It's, like, the opposite of smart, and it really irritates me how often he gets called smart because of it.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, not as good as that TED spaghetti sauce thing. And the Harry Potter review in the same issue was all lulzy about the homoeriticism of wizard wands. What gives, new yorker? Where's the neat homelessness policy follow-ups that everyone else ignores? Where's the arty Laetitia Casta photospread? You're not the same magazine I fell in love with.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:04 AM on July 27, 2009


New Narc City: Sam Vaknin and the Narcissism of Wall Street.

No Doubts: Women Are Better Managers

Quandary: since pathological narcissists (and the anti-social personality disordered) are driven to succeed, usually have exceptional memories and social strategy skills, are typically charismatic and very concerned about appearances, they are likely to be the ones who become heads of companies, the CEOs, the most rich and powerful people in the world. They typically have issues with grandiosity, diminished conscience, pathological deceit, which guarantees they will both succeed and then hurt people while succeeding. It's at the core of the illness. Pathological narcissists often have roller coaster lives with tremendous peaks and troughs, are able to sustain being hated without crumbling, have teflon social skins. They rebound after failure like nobody else. This has been true throughout history. This is unlikely to change.

The problem. Pathological narcissists create what I term Abuse Support Networks. Those around the politician, the CEO, the mob boss who do the dirty work, the lawyers and secret keepers who back up the CEO stealing the company dry, the enablers of the abuser. When a truth-teller, who knows the abuser, speaks the truth around a narcissist in power, the truth teller's life is usually destroyed by smear campaign, undermining in a variety of ways, all the way up to being murdered.

In dealing with domestic situations where there is a pathological narcissist I find it is useful to create what I term a Loving Support Network. A group of people who helps the victim of the abuse get out, get the truth out and believes the abuse is really going on. Essential in domestic situations are lawyers who have solid experience dealing with abusers who feel entitled to abuse. Obviously, in a corporate environment it is not appropriate to use a phrase like Loving Support Network but maybe there is another term that suits the situation better. Not just about creating a whistleblower's support system but something more like Authenticity Accountability, Authenticity Management, something like that.

What needs to change, imo, is the knowledge about pathological narcissism in those people around the narcissist CEO/military leader/politician/head of administration: the employees, the committee members, the stockholders, the soldiers, the various staff members, those doing the real work of any administration, the accountants, the technicians, the people behind the scenes, the secretaries, the paralegals, the auditors. Those less visible people need to be empowered, made to feel more confident in their truth-telling about what is really going on in any corporation at the upper levels. In knowing the emotional-social illness of pathological narcissism, it is up to those around the narcissists to learn when *not* to buy into the grandiosity, pathological deceit, manipulations. But then, once the truth is known what to do? How can a company be saved from the pathology of its CEO or head? Maybe an internal regulation management familiar with the damage unreined pathological narcissists can do and empowered to take appropriate action when it comes to internal infrastructure?

If there were a consulting job for this I'd like to do it. Not just to reduce interpersonal conflict within an administration but to make the best practical use of pathological narcissists' skills while protecting the company, society at large and stockholders.
posted by nickyskye at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


In short, Ruthless Bunny, your lazy, sexist, one-sided rant got a lot of favorites because this is Metafilter and your words concur with the majority opinion. What you posted was bullshit, and I called you on it.

Or, she's mostly right, guilty of maybe presenting her point a little too emphatically, but the nut of it really does nail the situation based on my experience noted above.

This isn't to say that women, non-white males etc might not make equally f***ed up decisions and mistakes if they had the POWER. They probably would, as power does tend to corrupt. But if you don't see mostly white male faces when you look into the halls of Corporate America (Corporate Western World for that matter), then you're wearing the wrong sunglasses.
posted by philip-random at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2009


Afroblanco: "She blamed Teh White Man for all of our problems, which is an exceptionally lazy thing to do, especially on a place like MeFi where she knows that she won't get flamed for it."

What the hell are you talking about? She's getting flamed all to hell in this thread - as always happens on metafilter when an enlightened other pops in for a minute to remind you of the sort of thing most people learn their second year into a liberal arts program.

Once again, thank you for demonstrating with incisive clarity the reality that metafilter doesn't do race. I'm a pragmatist, and usually chalk this up to the majority of mefites being IT-types who slept through Anthro 101. But you're full of shit on this one, Afroblanco - people get flamed regularly on this website for referencing white privilege and you know it. Of course, for all I know you could be daily oppressed by a whole gaggle of female ceo's and maybe racism really is over now you know Barrack Obama is president and oh why can't people just shut up about how white guys ruined the economy oh boo hoo
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:06 AM on July 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


What gives, new yorker? Where's the neat homelessness policy follow-ups that everyone else ignores? Where's the arty Laetitia Casta photospread? You're not the same magazine I fell in love with.

Where have you gone, William Shawn? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.
posted by blucevalo at 11:11 AM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like the part where Gladwell talked about how reflection and review and working to accepted standards and peer review within the organization/enterprise could go a long way toward thwarting this mavericky blowhard overconfidence... Seriously, I enjoy his writing but, sweet jeebus, he doesn't like the big picture. He'll take a detail or two with almost no context, and then chew it like a dog with a fresh raw elk leg.

The overconfidence you need to make decisions without regard for anything or anybody outside your own impulse is where you go wrong. Low-level criminals who have very unsuccessful lives are also capable of this. As are women. Plenty of people have the "confidence" to decide that they can book out of the office the second the boss leaves, and the confidence to leave their work to other people who won't sneak out.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2009


My mancrush on Gladwell has long-since ebbed. I am back to muddling through with figuring out life on my own now.

Mefi Exclusive!

An Excerpt from the forthcoming Muddle: How Vague Plans and Hazy Half-Thoughts Created The Industrial Revolution, Defeated Communism and Put This Shiteating Grin On My Face (& How It Can Help You Find Your Own Grin!) by Malcolm Gladwell

*Wishing that there was an "assist" column in the stats. . .*
posted by Danf at 11:21 AM on July 27, 2009


In short, Ruthless Bunny, your lazy, sexist, one-sided rant got a lot of favorites...

I got a lot of favorites???

SQEEE!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on July 27, 2009


Oh gosh, I think I may have put my foot in it.

True, but you did so with a lot of confidence. Let's hit the driving range later.
posted by Drastic at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Drastic: Naw, I suck at golf.

We could go get shoeshines together though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2009


No. She blamed Teh White Man for all of our problems, which is an exceptionally lazy thing to do, especially on a place like MeFi where she knows that she won't get flamed for it.

What? I've gotten flamed for this before, as has my previous incarnation.
posted by kathrineg at 12:02 PM on July 27, 2009


This will not gladwell.
posted by srboisvert at 12:11 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


In short, Ruthless Bunny, your lazy, sexist, one-sided rant got a lot of favorites because this is Metafilter and your words concur with the majority opinion. What you posted was bullshit, and I called you on it.

You both got the almost the same number of sprinkles, children, so eat your ice cream and stop complaining.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:59 PM on July 27, 2009


So many arrogant comments here.

Gladwell is so-so because I don't understand his hair style. There I said it.
posted by peppito at 1:00 PM on July 27, 2009


Now, if a woman were to rise to the top of a company wherein the typical buffoon white guy has predominated, chances are, she'll be a typical buffoon white (or otherwise) chick. (Carly Fiorina I'm talking about you!)

This. Before I hunkered down into my comfortable nest in academe, I worked in a Fortune 500 company at a mid-management level. There is a definite culture that gets more distinct as one rises in management levels. The group-think gets awfully strong as one approaches the top tier of VPs and the CEO, COO, CIO, etc. and, although I didn't interact much with them, I would guess the COB and board members. It's not just that blacks, Hispanics, women, and other minorities are pretty much cut out, it's that most of us are. There is an expectation about a whole bunch of things that I could never conform to that drives ones ability to climb the management ladder. There were people much dumber than I (and that's pretty dumb, given my nick) and with little evidence of prior success other than occupying job slots who rose far above my modest station based on their ability and willingness to conform to these expectations. The top of that pyramid is so narrow that it is a mistake to take it membership as any indication of raw ability. It demands a selection process so arcane and specific to the culture at the top, a culture that most of us have no access to unless we were born to it, that 99.9% of us have zero chance of ever being able to enter it. We are all "discriminated against" in that sense.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


“This isn't to say that women, non-white males etc might not make equally f***ed up decisions and mistakes if they had the POWER”
If? Examples abound of women with power overrating the accuracy of their judgments as they grow older and experienced. (Funding the LTTE, pretty f’ing overconfident move I’d say)

But what, we’re just talking U.S., corporate culture, etc. etc. oh, and except for the women who do have power – yeah, ok, whatever. Except for all the women who were militant, greedy hegemonic, ruthless, terrorist backing, bloodthirsty imperialists - men suck.

This is pretty pedantic all around. I've got to go with Renton's response to Sick Boy: "Right. So we all get old and then we can't hack it anymore. Is that it? That's your theory?"

Now it might be Beautifully fucking illustrated, but that "optimal margin of illusion" is cultural. Yes, white privilege exists. Yes, male privilege exists. But that's systemic. And he points out systems (games, such as bridge) that have feedback components that reveal mistakes immediately.
What does piss me off about these kinds of discussions, this "oh, men" or "white privilege" or whatever is that the focus is on the complaints. Well, hell, take it as read that it exists. Ok, some folks contest the point, but for the most part they're idiots (I don't think that's what Afroblanco was going on about - especially since he mentioned corporate psychology).

So then, and this dovetails with the matter at hand, talk about those systemic elements. Because to refight the same damned arguments (and I don't think that's what Ruthless Bunny was going on about) seems like there's no solution. That it's somehow an inherent trait. Which is wrong. But also - silly. Because then there's no remedy.

Given the current corporate culture I'd like to think there are solutions as it pertains to methodology - and practical ones that can offer immediate feed back.
...not being a corporate guy, I have no idea what those might be, but I'd be interested to learn.

“Surely Iraq stands as a classic example of over confidence.”

The irony is, for anyone with combat experience, overconfidence is a lethal enemy. For the folks in the back rooms though, positive boon, because they don’t take the hits for their mistakes. Don't even get prosecuted for 'em. Hell, most of them got attaboy's and medals.
So, same deal. That's been a standing argument for even longer than corporate malfeasance though.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on July 27, 2009


One of the benefits of wanting to respond in this thread and researching overconfidence in relation to corporate finance, was discovering information about David Korten.
posted by nickyskye at 1:52 PM on July 27, 2009


Or, she's mostly right, guilty of maybe presenting her point a little too emphatically, but the nut of it really does nail the situation based on my experience noted above.

"I've always thought this attitude was a chauvinistic man thing." Are you saying this is mostly right? This is the initial point that was being defended.

It's no mystery to me why it was women who blew the whistle on MCI and Enron. SOMEONE had to say something, and the boys were too busy out on the links, smoking Cohibas and slapping each other on the back about how great they were.

This is the part that's obnoxious, unproven, and makes the retraction seem a little hollow. I don't see any reason to believe that women would be likelier to be whistle-blowers than men either at the top of the food chain or the bottom.

The part that was really annoying was the favorites. And though there are a fair share of sexist remarks against women on metafilter, they don't get more than a few favorites.

What the hell are you talking about? She's getting flamed all to hell in this thread

It caused a number of critiques, but all but one were polite disagreement. Hardly like getting flamed.
posted by kigpig at 2:28 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


tl; I'm fucking awesome
posted by Skot at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


This will Gladwell.
posted by Eideteker at 5:28 PM on July 27, 2009


Interesting that Gladwell reached back to Gallipoli to illustrate his point. Surely Iraq stands as a classic example of over confidence.

Well, pretty much everyone agrees that Gallipoli was a disaster, whereas if you try to say the same thing about Iraq people will fall over themselves in their rush to argue, and your point gets lost.

I think Gladwell is basically enunciating the same points that Liddell-Hart made on the Dardanelles - that it was a bold, risky move that could have been decisive in ending the war, had it not been fatally undermined by the errors of the commanders.
posted by Ritchie at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2009


FYI, there was an interesting discussion of this article on Andrew Sullivan's blog not too long ago.
posted by Kiablokirk at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2009


OT, but fwiw, just came across the psychology of choking :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2009


These are the kind of guys we've let run our world, for ... how many centuries?
posted by Twang at 8:43 PM on July 27, 2009


It's not blatant gender trolling if it's accurate and I think Ruthless Bunny pretty much nails it. I'm white, male, born in 1959, reasonably privileged situation.

I echo this. I'm white, male, born in 1969, and while I don't think I'm in a privileged situation by comparison of people who think they're in a privileged situation — those people generally have priorities I consider a little distorted — I know I'm in a privileged situation just by dint of being white and male and smart in the right ways.

I think people like Cayne are an abomination: the perfect storm of class privilege, testosterone-enhanced bull-headed idiocy, and luck. And when the luck turns, that steroidal mass of moronity steams relentlessly into the glass ceiling of his competence, smashing the entire economy into shards. What. An. Asshole.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:38 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it ironic that women object to men being in charge largely because of their self confidence, yet this same quality is one of the main items women favor when selecting them as mates?

usually i like to say there is no such thing as a stupid question - but in this case i'll make an exception
posted by jammy at 5:36 AM on July 28, 2009


No. She blamed Teh White Man for all of our problems, which is an exceptionally lazy thing to do, ...

I think the point was that white men typically aren't forced to question and therefore really learn to reflect on and analyze their decisions because they grow up being deferred to from the start. This creates a personality with an overabundance of comfort in the world, a capacity to just do whatever they decide to do, without concern over how it will be received. Women and minorities are used to being "the other" - they're used to thinking of themselves in relationships and therefore, considering their decisions reflectively.

White men are not "Other", typically (some are /in certain situations, of course, but looking at the classic example) and so their actions are less likely to be cautious, considerate, or reflective. They have not been taught by their society how to interact in that manner - they've been given reign to lead blindly all their life, and power to dismiss anyone who tries to push back against that.

This doesn't explain everything about every single person in our society, but it is a real dynamic.
posted by mdn at 8:23 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always enjoy a Gladwell article. His ideas are not always astounding, but usually nuanced. His anecdotes are interesting and usually informative. His connections are sometimes insightful and creative, or sometimes tenuous and reaching, but usually provocative.

And he produces such great snark on metafilter.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2009


Women and minorities are used to being "the other" - they're used to thinking of themselves in relationships and therefore, considering their decisions reflectively.

So you're suggesting that if more women and minorities were in executive positions, we wouldn't have had a financial crisis? Do you have any evidence to back this up?

I don't think it's possible to prove such a thing, and in fact it's kind of dangerous to rely on arguments like that. We should promote gender equality and racial diversity because it's the fair, just, and human thing to do; not because of some unprovable speculation about whether women and minorities are better leaders.

In any case, I do wish I hadn't responded to Evil Bunny's posts, because -- surprise! -- this thread *did* wind up becoming all about race and gender, which I think are largely ancillary to the matter at hand. I think the real question is how our economy can best be served by peoples' risk taking instincts, while at the same time limiting the amount of harm that a single individual can do.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2009


I think the stuff about the boardroom is kind of obvious - people at the top are most likely to tell you they're the best, and are most likely to welcome their own on board. That's how they talk, that's how they behave. It doesn't matter what colour or gender they are - they're going to welcome black women that (not) coincidentally will have the same attitude. And below them will be nothing but encouragement, because they will fall prey to the classic "people that agree with me are smarter than people that don't, and what we need in Tough Times are Smart People".

Incidentally, should I ever have kids, I will try to imbue them with a similarly insane level of self-confidence, as it's increasingly clear that it's a valuable asset, and may make the difference between becoming "one of the hungry people storming the bunker" and "the person defending the bunker with a shotgun" once these ubermenschen have finished with civilisation.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:57 AM on July 28, 2009


In the same issue of the same magazine is an object lesson about someone similarly overconfident in his abilities and blamelessness. Turns out differently, though.
posted by Pliskie at 12:12 PM on July 28, 2009


It's no mystery to me why it was women who blew the whistle on MCI and Enron.

Why Corporate Women Are More Likely to Blow the Whistle (Slate.com)
posted by sk381 at 5:30 PM on July 28, 2009


Why Corporate Women Are More Likely to Blow the Whistle (Slate.com)

Why Slate Writers Are More Likely To Use Weasel Words And Less Likely to Use Any Statistics To Back Up Their Thesis
posted by Afroblanco at 9:17 PM on July 28, 2009


In any case, I do wish I hadn't responded to Evil Bunny's posts

yeah, me too - and given that you continue to comment, if you need to refer to her again, could you try to muster even the basic respect to get her username right? that'd be great - thanks!
posted by jammy at 1:48 PM on July 29, 2009


So I wait till [the lawyer for the other side] passes and then I follow him in and it’s just he and I in the bathroom. And I said to him, “Today you’re going to get your ass kicked, big.” He ran out of the room. He thought I might have wanted to start it right there and then.
More likely he didn't want to be accused to messing with a witness without their lawyer present.
posted by exogenous at 4:55 AM on July 31, 2009


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