The second book I have read since Christmas is Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw. I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell having devoured The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking & Outliers: The Story of Success.
Gladwell makes you think twice about things you might otherwise take for granted or just not think about at all. This book comprises a collection of Gladwell’s articles from The New Yorker.
I will give you a quick dip into two of these articles. The first changed my mind about a television ad that has irritated me for a long time – it’s LÓreal’s “Because you’re worth it”. I have always thought this is somewhat cynical when associated with make-up and hair colour. What Gladwell presents however is the context for a campaign designed to follow Clairol’s “Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure”. This was a very clever campaign to present hair dyes as natural in appearance. The response from L’Oreal was designed by a 23 year old woman working for McCann-Erikson. She decided that L’Oreal’s ad was not going to be about women wanting to meet men’s needs - it was about how this slightly more expensive product made her feel about herself – she didn’t mind spending a bit more meeting her own needs – “Because I’m worth it!” It was a deliberate push back against the ‘I have to look good for my man’ attitude. And it worked! So although the phrase has changed, I have seen it in a different light and am much less irritated – maybe I am worth it!
Another article should be required reading for the Minister of Education “Most Likely to Succeed”. It starts off by highlighting how difficult it is to select a quarterback for the NFL from the College superstars. The difference between how the games are played are just too great. As Gladwell says “There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired.”
He goes on to compare this to teaching. He describes ‘value added’ analysis, which uses standardised test scores at the beginning and again at the end of the school year and then follows the teachers’ scores over the next three or four years. Over time it is possible to assess the quality of the teaching.
He refers to an economist, Eric Hanushek, who estimates that students of a very bad teacher learn on average half a year’ s work; whereas students of a very good teacher learn a year and a half’s worth of learning in a single year. That’s an entire year’s difference.
“Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a better teacher.”
The trouble is that “no one knows what a person with the potential to be great teacher looks like. The school system has a quarterback problem.”
Would one of the Tories out there get the Minister of Education to think about value added analysis before she wastes another cent on national standards! Unless the standards measure the ‘value-add’ (which they don’t) they will obviously be meaningless!
Malcolm Gladwell makes you think and that’s why I love reading his stuff.