Bucking Trends with Malcolm Gladwell

If there’s one non-fiction author I can consistently read, it’s Malcolm Gladwell. In general, I’m more of a genre fiction gal, but there’s something about MG’s writing that really appeals, a mix of how he explains things and links it up, and the examples he uses.

The latest book I’m reading is David and Goliath, which is all about why the little guy often wins, against all the odds. It’s really interesting for the stories of when the small fish wins against the sharks. But what I actually really get into is the stories of when things are not what they seem. When what seems to be the intuitive answer, the most likely scenario, isn’t actually the right answer.

An example he talks about is class size. The idea of having your child in a small class with only 10 kids in it, versus a class with say 20 children, seems like a good idea. More attention from the teacher, more time to learn, and generally a better learning experience.

But what he found was that actually, the optimum number of children in a class was around 18-20, and that having too few children in a class room was actually just as difficult and obstructive to learning as a classroom with 30 children. There’s not enough difference of opinion to have decent discussion with 10 or fewer children, and children who don’t speak up in a bigger class, aren’t actually more likely to speak up with fewer children. So when those politicians start talking about lowering the numbers in classrooms, make sure they’re not trying to lower them from the perfect number of 20. And when you’re looking for an expensive private school to send your child to – don’t send them to a school that promises small class sizes – it might not actually be the best place for your little darling…

Another reason I like the idea of breaking those sensible myths, is that I write about research in my other job. I talk to enough people on this topic who are researching in a wide variety of disciplines, and it seems to come up regularly. The most recent example is plumbing and gasfitting researchers who set out to decipher the best possible pipe sizes and other fittings for a particular type of water heater, and have since made some really exciting discoveries that actually challenge what was considered general knowledge, and obvious best practice. A major distributor has actually delayed release of a product, because of their research.

And another really simple example of the reality being the opposite to what you might think. Sleep and babies. I had a couple of people say to me – “Don’t worry that your baby hasn’t been sleeping during the day, it’ll make her more tired at night, she’ll go to sleep easier.” Just so you know, this is categorically not true. If your baby doesn’t sleep during the day, they will be so overtired and upset by the time they get to the evening that they definitely won’t sleep and will probably cry half the night, because they’re so tired, they’re beside themselves.

I learned this pretty quick as a new mum.

And what is my point with all of this? Simply that what seems to be the most logical, intuitive or reasonable way to do things – sometimes isn’t. Popular beliefs aren’t always right. It’s okay to buck the trend, and follow your own path.

Because that path can sometimes turn out to be the right direction.


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