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Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Day I Didn't Blink

Malcom Gladwell deserves to be paid good money to speak. And I'm glad he's blogging regularly to pursue the arguments made in his excellent book, Blink. I felt that the book wasn't quite as scientific as I would have liked, and some details just made you scratch your head. He would have had trouble knitting the theory together based on some of the cases (which I'm sure he'd admit). And clearly certain examples are more robust than others. In medical triage, coming up with a shorthand set of criteria that will correctly predict a certain diagnosis 99% of the time, saves time and lives where previously you might have needed a full "workup" to get a less accurate diagnosis, on average.

The short explanation is that Gladwell helps illustrate how snap judgments - in certain cases - are not only correct, but become indispensible to processing complex data and reaching good outcomes in the real world. (The reverse is too often true, however. Wrong snap judgments prevent companies from diverse hiring practices, and the like. The secret is in the correlation between your criteria and the correct outcome.)

Anyway, that synopsis is just a digression from the topic of this post, establishing the fact that Gladwell is a smart writer (as you probably already know), so I can actually use an example of "thin-slicing" in action, in my next post.

What I wanted to do here was bounce this "conference speaking pitch" model off you...

I received a call from a conference organizing company. The salesperson/organizer immediately began asking me questions about my business, which made me suspicious, since I didn't know who she was and they seemed like leading questions. After establishing her credentials, I learned that there was to be a conference that would attract top execs from top companies, and "put me in front of them" as a speaker and workshop leader, exclusive to my category. Of course, there would be a fee coming out of my pocket for this opportunity. Now to prove it would be a killer event, Malcolm Gladwell was touted as one of the high-powered keynote speakers.

Let's assume Gladwell receives $10,000 to legitimize this whole exercise. (I hope it's that much.) Then, each of 20 speakers & workshop leaders pays an average $5,000 to attend, and 50 attendees pay $5,000 to attend. Top line $350k. Perhaps a few other wrinkles in there, so let's say this model nets $300k in profit on revenues of $600k. Not a momentous business proposition until you multiply it by say 25 events a year.

What I don't understand is why you'd bother building this model at all. It's not good for the quality speakers, but may be good for vendors who have trouble finding face time with buyers - it makes them into "speakers" (from not being previously sought-after). But why do the attendees want to be put shoulder to shoulder with these vendors in such an illegitimate format? Organizing proper conferences or workshops where the talent is actually compensated would, presumably, encourage quality content rather than just a hard sales pitch. Inviting well-known authors to gloss over the sales pitch aspect just makes the whole thing seem doubly crafty. You can almost hear the calculators tapping: "Hmm... well, if we can get Gladwell for $10,000 but make $100k back from the 'speakers', then we've just outsmarted the whole world." :)

All the more reason for sticking to my New Year's resolution to say no to these "opportunities in reverse." If I have to pay you so I can speak to someone, what I have to say mustn't be very good.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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