What the Dog Saw

Summary Written by Erin Gordon
"Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. Not the kind of writing you’ll find in this book, anyway. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head – even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be."

- What the Dog Saw, page xxi

The Big Idea

Looking from the outside in… no more

"But what if we look at that problem through someone else’s eyes, from inside someone else’s head?"- What the Dog Saw, page xvii

At work and in life, we find safety and security in adopting the role of objective observer. But what does this really tell us about what is happening in front of our eyes? What can we possibly learn from this practice? Gladwell would have us believe interesting adventures occur when we try to appreciate a situation through the eyes of those directly involved. Following the namesake of the book, it’s a lot more interesting to ponder the actions of Cesar Millan the great Dog Whisperer through the eyes of the dog he is taming than the audience that has paid for his attendance. Now that is an interesting perspective to try and get your thoughts around.

Insight #1

Beware of Creeping Determinism

"…in our zeal to correct what we believe to be the problems of the past, we end up creating new problems for the future"- What the Dog Saw, page 256

We want to be able to predict what will happen in the future based on what we think we know from the past, but our review mirror is flawed. Our brain continually fills in the gaps and rescripts past events to make sense of the world around us. It may simply be sensory overload, but our brain seems hardwired to slowly and silently rewrite the past. This hubris may prevent us from really learning from our past mistakes. It can also cause unnecessary blame when we take the view that an event (or tragedy) could have been predicted when in fact the opposite is true. It is easy to say, but much harder to put into practice. Even if only once out of every 10 attempts, there is an opportunity to really question our recollection of the past and recognize that some things just can’t be predicted. There is too much peripheral noise, and validating our present position by re-scripting the past is only an exercise in creative storytelling and will not positively influence our future.

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Insight #2

What’s in a first impression?

"A prediction in a field where prediction is not possible, is no more than a prejudice"- What the Dog Saw, page 335

For those with people management accountability, please be forewarned. There are a few sacred cows in the third section of this book. While the first way to action the insights from this book is to reflect on our past, the second way is to firmly ground ourselves in the present and determine whether that insignificant spark that caught our attention is really a valid indicator of that person’s future success. First impressions can be extremely powerful, influential and carry us on the road to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is the tool, process or stats I am about to invest time in understanding, really going to measure what I think it will, and is that “thing” a true measure or predictor of what I hope to that person will accomplish in the future? We take things for granted because our parents and their parents and their parents told them to be true. As Gladwell says, we hear what we expect to hear. When we conduct interviews with teachers, future employees, nannies and investment bankers, that interview may be “hopelessly biased in favour of nice”. Perhaps it is time to be a little less nice, look beyond the initial chemistry that guides our first impression and find a narrowly defined approach that measures one aspect that is related to one output I would like to see in the future. Stay small but relevant.

I have read a few of Malcom Gladwell’s other books and truly love his style of writing. I would firmly describe myself as a fan. When preparing to write this summary, I was a little intimidated; so, I researched a few reviews online to make sure I was on the correct path. What I found fascinated me. There were many exceedingly positive reviews from the Sunday Times, Boston Globe and New York Times, but I also found a few less than flattering evaluations. These reviews poked holes in the content and questioned the validity of some of the perspectives provided, but from my view that is so far from the point. Quite frankly, who cares if the technical details are not 100% accurate or if the option presented isn’t the most cost-effective. The book creates a platform to think about things differently. Differently doesn’t mean correctly or accurately or cost-effective or best. It is just different. It is from the unseemly perspective of different that we arrive at innovation, change and improvement.

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Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with “The New Yorker” magazine since 1996. His 1999 profile of Ron Popeil won a National Magazine Award, and in 2005 he was named one of “Time” Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. He is the author of four books, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference,” (2000) , “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (2005), and “Outliers: The Story of Success” (2008) all of which were number one “New York Times” bestsellers. His latest book, “What the Dog Saw” (2009) is a compilation of stories published in “The New Yorker.”

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