Tag: Malcolm Gladwell

Mind Hack: Why do we prefer Coke over Pepsi?

The Pepsi Challenge, a brilliant piece of marketing, pitted Coke versus Pepsi in two unmarked cups to everyone who dared try a sample.

Consumers were asked simply, which one do you prefer?

When the final results of this effort were tallied it was clear that people preferred Pepsi.  So, by all accounts, Pepsi should be trouncing Coke but it wasn’t and isn’t. Why?

Malcolm Gladwell outlined one theory in Blink. He proposed that in small samples-“Sip Tests”-people choose Pepsi because it tastes sweeter. However, in real life, we don’t drink just have a sip and stop and there is a huge difference between a sip and a full can. Over the course of a can, the sweeter taste of Pepsi sent people’s blood sugar levels into overdrive. That, according to Gladwell, is why Pepsi won in the taste tests but Coke continued to lead the Market.

That’s not the end of the story. In 2003, Dr. Read Montague, the Director of Neuroimaging Lab at Bayer College of Medicine, decided to explore the test results through the lens of an fMRI machine. First, he asked the volunteers whether they preferred Pepsi or Coke. The results from this simple question mimicked the results of the Pepsi Challenge. The majority of people choose Pepsi. Their brains did too. While sipping Pepsi volunteers experienced a flurry of activity in the the ventral putamen, a region of the brain that’s stimulated when we find tastes appealing.

During the second stage of the experiment, Dr. Montague decided to let subjects know if they were sampling Coke or Pepsi before they consumed the beverage. The result: 75% of the respondents preferred Coke. Why?

Dr. Montague observed that in addition to a stimulated ventral putamen, blood flows were now elevated in the medial prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain that, among other things, handles higher thinking and discernment. There was a tug of war going on between the rational and emotional spots in our brain. Emotions won. We drink more Coke than Pepsi.

Coke has spent a lifetime, and literally billions of dollars, building up emotional associations with history, big events, its logo, color, design, fragrance, famous people, childhood, Christmas, Olympics, dreams, and aspirations, .. you get the point.

As Martin Lindstrom puts it, “Emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value, and a brand that engages us emotionally will win every single time.”

Hiring and the Mismatch Problem

“We want to cling to these incredibly outdated and simplistic measures of ability.”
Malcolm Gladwell


Hiring is difficult and we tend to fall back on antiquated tools that give us a number (something, anything) to help us evaluate potential employees. This creates what Malcolm Gladwell calls “mismatch problems” — when the criteria for evaluating job candidates is out of step with the reality of the job demands.

Of course, we never think our criteria is out of step.

The mismatch problem shows itself all over the sports world. Although the study below was released in 2008, Gladwell has long illustrated the point that sports combines (events professional sports leagues hold for scouts to evaluate potential draftees based on a battery of ‘tests’) don’t work.

Gladwell’s results echo what Michael Lewis talks about in Moneyball: Combines are a poor predictor of determining ultimate success. Mismatch problems transcend the sports world.

Teachers are another example. While we tend to evaluate teachers based on high test scores, the number of degrees and other credentials, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.

Some companies, like Google, are trying to attack this problem. Google tried to find correlations between ‘great’ existing employees. When they find correlations, say like most people who score 9/10 on performance reviews, own a dog, they try to work that into their hiring. By constantly evaluating the actual results of their hiring, rethinking how they hire, and removing questions and evaluations that show no bearing on actual performance they are taking steps to try to eliminate the mismatch problem.

Google also knows hiring lacks certainty; they are just trying to continuously improve and refine the process. Interestingly, very few workforces are so evidence-based. Rather the argument becomes hiring works because it has always ‘worked’…

So why do mismatch problems exist?

Because we desire certainty. We want to impose certainty on something that is not, by nature, certain. The increase in complexity doesn’t help either.

“The craving for that physics-style precision does nothing but get you in terrible trouble.”

See the video here.

Interested in learning more? Check out measurements that mislead.

Malcolm Gladwell is the New York Times bestselling author of Blink:The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceOutliers:The Story of Success, and What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures.

How Underdogs Can Win: A Lesson From The Swiss

Last night something amazing happened. While the Swiss hockey team ultimately lost in a shootout to the powerhouse Canadians, they earned a point for tying the game. How did this happen?

On paper, the two teams don’t even compare. The Canadian roster is full of superstars while the Swiss have largely a ho-hum roster. In terms of payroll, this would be the same as the Yankees facing the local high-school baseball team. The game should have been a blowout. No one expected the Swiss to win or, for that matter, even compete.

The Swiss knew if they played the conventional way — that is, if they let the Canadians move and pass without opposition — they would certainly lose.

So they employed an unconventional strategy which didn’t rely on skill: The Swiss found a way to greatly reduce the skill advantage held by the Canadians. Much like the basketball teams highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s How underdogs can win, the Swiss conceded nothing and applied constant pressure.

Applying pressure over the entire ice surface requires a lot of work but very little actual skill. In hockey, much like basketball, teams often concede a large percentage of the playing surface before trying to stop the other team. This favors the skilled teams over the unskilled teams. Applying relentless pressure over the entire playing surface, like the Swiss, neutralized the skill advantage of their superior opponent.

Only when the game went into a shootout, when the Swiss could not apply their skill neutralizing strategy of constant pressure, did the Canadian skill win the game.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, Blink, Outliers and most recently, What the Dog Saw.

The Mis-Match Problem

In this video, Malcolm Gladwell speaks on the challenge of hiring in the modern world.

One of those challenges, the mis-match problem, happens when we use criteria to judge someone for a job that is radically out of step with the actual demands of the job itself. Despite our best intentions we do this all of the time. Gladwell says “we want to cling to these incredibly outdated and simplistic measures of ability.”

Why do mis-match problems exist?
1. Our desire for certainty — the desire to impose certainty on something that is not certain.
2. Increase in complexity in professions.

“The craving for that physics-style precision does nothing but get you in terrible trouble.”

See more on the mis-match problem.

Malcolm Gladwell is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, Blink, Outliers and most recently, What the Dog Saw.