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Author Malcolm Gladwell Examines Interface of Technology and Professional Bias

by Jason Gumpert
April 14 2011

Popular author Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers, and other books about various aspects of the human condition) posed that question in a keynote address at Convergence 2011, based on his contention that even the most seasoned professionals are prone to not inconsequential errors in their jobs. As a prime example, he pointed to new data showing that professional referees and umpires show bias toward home teams because these decision makers are intimidated by home crowds...without even realizing it. 

As a result, he said, we need "some kind of balanced role for technology, that allows the best of human decision making." He identified three ways technology can improve decision making.

1.Technology can improve transparency. "We are not very good as human beings at looking at the decisions we make. We're not very good at explaining how we make a decision." He pointed to a tennis coach who has concluded that tennis players are unable to explain how they make certain highly skillful shots. "They tell you a story that seems plausible. Technology can help make transparency." For example, in the sports world, technology has been used to evaluate how major league umpires perform, and until it was pulled from major league parks in 2008, had improved umpire performance, Gladwell said.

2.Technology can simplify the decision-making process. He argued that professionals of all types do better when they have just a few variables to use in their decisions, and do much worse as the number of variables increases. As an example, he cited emergency room physicians who do much better diagnosing cases involving chest pain when they limit themselves to four symptoms (like elevated blood pressure and intensity of pain) rather than getting into long lists of issues involving lifestyle.

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About Jason Gumpert

As the editor of, Jason oversees all editorial content on the site and at our events, as well as providing site management and strategy. He can be reached at

Prior to co-founding, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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Submitted by jason mills on Fri, 04/15/2011 - 14:00 Permalink

I was hesitant on how Malcolm was going to bring it all together but found once again how interesting his insight was. My takeaway was reviewing with each role in the company what information do they need and WHY they need it. The tools come and go; the goal is to dig into what and how information can create transparency, simplify and improve their judgement. I was curious on exploring further how to establish the value of providing these three. How can you estimate the worth/value of implementing solutions that address them. MS Dynamics GP partner in Orange, CA. Makers of the ASPDotNetStoreFront Bridge for eCommerce.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Submitted by Wendy_Fox on Tue, 04/26/2011 - 10:20 Permalink

The transparency message is not new, but still extremely relevant. It also seems useful to consider technology as a path to simplicity--asking the right questions rather than all the questions. Dynamics AX partner in Colorado --

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Submitted by astanton2008 on Tue, 04/26/2011 - 11:45 Permalink

I often do not learn much at KeyNote presentations and yet Malcolm Gladwell once again outdid himself. His insight was a true gift and one that has continued to add to my life and to the way I approach technology and business.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)