Explaining Malcolm Gladwell, part 3 of a 2-part series

When last we visited, I had just completed an exegesis of a Malcolm Gladwell screed that, if I do say so myself, brought clarity crashing down upon the reader like so many crushed remnants of the Cash for Clunkers program.

That done, we turn to the real mystery of Gladwell’s musing, namely, the identity of one John Paulson, a name therein referenced. Google alone lists 887,000 references to the name, and even Facebook offers no fewer than 228 John Paulsons, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Lubbock, Texas to Athens, Georgia to Cleveland, Ohio and back again several times.

Now, most plodding researchers would start by taking the first name that comes up in the Google search and seeing if that guy was a fit for Gladwell’s narrative – that first reference, by the way, belongs to a guy who does something on Wall Street, and who had a good day last year or something – I checked, but it didn’t feel right.

This is just the sort of seemingly intractable problem that us meta-meta-commentators excel at, where we earn our money, as it were, so I immediately threw myself into the analysis. First off, we summarily discarded the Google results – you know how long it would take to wade through 887,000 plumbers and dentists, mechanics and sex therapists that just happen to share that name? It could kill a guy’s afternoon, anyway.

Instead, we chose the Facebook list, because it’s shorter. Voila! We go from 887,000 to 228 in a single stroke that, doubtless, scholars will someday describe as “inspired” or “prescient.” Further, we noticed that many, indeed, most John Paulsons hadn’t bothered to upload a photo of themselves – in these days of cellphone cameras, what sort of lame-o can’t be bothered to put their mug on Facebook? Certainly no one Malcolm Gladwell is likely to write about.

Now we’re down to a small subset, I don’t know exactly how many, because I’d have to go through all 20 pages of Paulsons and count the ones with pictures, by hand, or maybe by making strokes on paper, where you draw 4 strokes, then a slash through all four to indicate 5. But again, who has the time? Once more we opt for a strategy known only in the most elite ‘meta’ circles called ‘go with the gut,’ or as the French would likely say allez avec les viandes or something like that.

So we picked Paulson from Eau Claire (has a nice ring, don’t you think?), Cleveland (I used to live near there) and a guy who we don’t know where he lives, but his picture shows him standing by the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, and deeper research shows he’s fond of U-Swirl Yogurt and the Swedish Salsa band Turbonegro.

Voila deux fois! We’ve just improved our odds from 1 in nearly a million to only 1 in 3, an accuracy improvement of nearly 6 orders of magnitude, which will have to suffice. No way I can pick one of these bozos without more data (though I’m kind of leaning toward Weiner Boy).

But look just how far we’ve come. From Gladwell’s virtually encrypted jargon “The most successful entrepreneur on Wall Street is John Paulson. He built a small money management firm into a juggernaut,” we can now state “A man who is either a suburbanite, a city dweller or an odd duck with eclectic tastes is somehow involved with a boat, or, perhaps a sailor, shaped like a woman’s breast, or, maybe, an odd-looking bottle with a funny doo-hickey near the neck.” Put that way, you can see why I’m leaning toward the Weiner guy… Thank you, Gladwell devotees, and please send checks, money orders and PayPal contributions to the usual place…

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About Chris Gulker

Chris Gulker, a self-described Infuential Blogger, lived in Menlo Park, California with spouse Linda. He passed away in late October 2010.
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One Response to Explaining Malcolm Gladwell, part 3 of a 2-part series

  1. Lamar says:

    Paulson…Paulson…lemme think here. Didn’t we just have a Paulson for Secretary of the Treasury?

    Yes! From Wikipedia: “Henry Merritt “Hank” Paulson, Jr. (born March 28, 1946) served as the 74th United States Treasury Secretary. He previously served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs. In 2008, Time named Paulson as a runner-up for its Person of the Year 2008, saying, with reference to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008: “if there is a face to this financial debacle, it is now his.”[1]”

    OK, let’s add a little conspiracy theory and urban legend and find that John Paulson (your guy) is the secret twin brother of Henry. John is the bad twin who cheated on the final in Econ 101 and got kicked out of Princeton. From there he went to the backrooms of Wall Street and made lots of money and learned the secrets of power form the Gnomes of Zurich (sorry that is so 1970s).

    Anyway, viola…there is your John Paulson.

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