[life] Malcolm Gladwell On The Psychology of Overconfidence‘Running an investment bank is not, in this sense, a game: it is not a closed world with a limited set of possibilities. It is an open world where one day a calamity can happen that no one had dreamed could happen, and where you can make a mistake of overconfidence and not personally feel the consequences for years and years-if at all. Perhaps this is part of why we play games: there is something intoxicating about pure expertise, and the real mastery we can attain around a card table or behind the wheel of a racecar emboldens us when we move into the more complex realms. “I’m good at that. I must be good at this, too,” we tell ourselves, forgetting that in wars and on Wall Street there is no such thing as absolute expertise…’

Malcolm Gladwell On The Psychology of Overconfidence

This entry was posted on Monday, July 27th, 2009 at 8:13 am and is filed under Business, Life, Malcolm Gladwell.

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1 Comment

I, too heard MG speak on the psychology of overconfidence and, while I think his books are masterfully supported and I subscribe to his philosophies and tenets on a daily basis, I find his view of ‘overconfidence’ somewhat flawed.
I think it would be difficult for MG to argue against the idea that what he calls overconfidence is actually just sheer hubris and arrogance. These are qualities hardly worth analysis, so MG calls it overconfidence and it becomes a relevant topic.
If you look at the examples he cites – most notably the guys on Wall Street and General Hooker in the Battle of Chancelorsville – these are clearly examples of hubris getting the better of an individual.
The difference is really a matter of timing. What would be called confidence is only dubbed ‘overconfidence’ when it yields a negative result. For instance, everyone know Mohammed Ali for his confidence before his fight with Frasier. Had Ali lost, we would be talking about his overconfidence… Overconfidence can only be identified in the light of the result. Patton, Montgomery, Ali and Ruth all displayed the sort of confidence that we hope our children will aspire to. Had they lost, they’d be the subject of MG lectures.

Also, in his lecture, MG touches on the inability or unwillingness to listen to those around you as one of the hallmarks of overconfidence as he sees it. Again, this is arrogance, not overconfidence. I’m quite sure that more than one person told Edison that the quest for artificial light was something better left behind. Also, there were enough people telling Chamberlain to negotiate with Hitler that he took their advice.

Bottom line is that while Malcolm Gladwell has given us some really great social analysis in his books, his current lecture is revealed as deeply flawed with a short objective glance. If I subscribed to the tenets of his argument, i might suggest that MG has become so successful at the contextual analysis of social phenomenon that he’s come to believe that any passing connections he makes between cause and effect are, in fact, brilliant by simple virtue of him having thought of them. Overconfidence? I’ll let you decide.

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