Podcast Of The Week: Gladwell On Being A Human Resources Nihilist, The Peter Principle, And Why Hamlet Was Wrong

Malcolm Gladwell picked his assistant, his accountant, and who knows how many other people in his life – really important people – on little more than a whim and a conversation. As he explains on the Revisionist History episode, “Hamlet was wrong,” when it comes to choices, people tend to either seek structure or rebel against it. He’s a rebellious decision-maker, even a nihilist. (If this dramatic rendering appeals to you, continue. If not, I understand. Move along).

In lotteries, games of chance, and really most problems, we have statistics or best practices to help us decide. Gladwell follows this logic into the topic of hiring decisions. He questions why we think the standard approaches work and if they’re even reliable in the first place. His skepticism appears in his behavior, as we find out via interviews with the assistant he hired over a conversation about traveling and the accountant he met in the street as a random fan of one of his books.

This is how a nihilist approaches these types of problems, with blatant disregard for the resumes, procedures, and pitches most people accept as best practices. And interestingly, they haven’t served him poorly. This is all a setup for a deeper dive into hiring, promotions, and hierarchies in larger structures. If we follow the standard rules, what feedback loops are they producing? We get a deep discussion about the Peter Principle and all sorts of other little interesting Gladwellian twists and turns.

This was an extra-entertaining episode to me. It may not make you buck all of the conventional wisdom in your life, but it will make you question the approach with fresh eyes. Give it a listen. Enjoy!

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