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November 5, 2007

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Problem Solving

It’s been widely linked, but I just watched Malcolm Gladwell’s recent talk about genius and it’s super-interesting. Quote:

Modern problems require quantity over quality. You’re better off with a large numbers of smart guys than a small number of geniuses.

Gladwell talks at length about Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. He didn’t really do it alone, though, and he didn’t do it quickly: In fact he literally sat down with the problem for like seven years straight.

I’m fairly enamored of this very specific, very determined identification of My Problem to Solve. It seems like Larry Lessig is doing something similar with the problem of corruption. It’s like: “This is my new thing. I’m going to study up, apply myself, and figure it out. Oh by the way, I expect it to take ten years.” Very cool.

Posted November 5, 2007 at 10:01 | Comments (3) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Briefly Noted


I really like that you came away with the notion that identification of / identification with a specific problem is what's important about that talk, because it cuts through the whole premodern genius vs. modern genius distinction that Gladwell talks up.

This might be a more salient way to think about what's really new here. Genius isn't necessarily about having a really smart person around who can solve any problem given sufficient time/attention: Da Vinci, Euler, Goethe, even Einstein. The impression you get from these guys is that they could do no wrong, and if only they had tried to do X or we had listened to them about Y, these problems would be solved.

Whether it's Fermat's Last Theorem or Linear B, the key thing seems to be finding a problem and working your way through it -- whatever your work processes or chances for collaboration happen to be. If you're really lucky, or if the problems are a little smaller than a lifework, you get to solve one problem after another.

What an amazing video. I am so happy Gladwell's blogging again.

I wonder if when people meet him if he just drops these kinds of stories on them. Or just how many of these stories he's got up in his noggin.

Maybe he's like a stand-up comedian and just repeats the story to everyone he meets until he writes a new act.

Either way, I think I need to go reread the Tipping Point.

BTW, really excellent blog.

Wait a minute, there's another Gavin out there? I thought for a minute that someone had hacked me when this comment showed up in my feed.

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