Monday, May 28, 2007

Think: Michael R. LeGault

After trawling through 254 pages of Think, you find the author articulating the book’s thesis: Critical thinking depends on analysis and logic, and action. I wish we had seen more of the first two in the book.

Think is Michael R. LeGault’s criticism (I almost said “critique”) of Malcolm Gladwell’s much-acclaimed Blink. So why is it not just a long scathing review in The Washington Times (where Michael LeGault worked)? Or a furious post in LeGault’s blog? Why did LeGault have to make a book of it?

I wonder whether LeGault missed Malcolm Gladwell’s key argument in Blink – snap decision-making is about “thin slicing,” which is not quite unthinking guesswork, but an ability to, in a sense, separate the grain from the chaff. This misinterpretation is perhaps the undoing of Think.

Consequently, the book ends up as one long rant at virtually everything – corporate America, the government, the education system, the media, the bureaucracy… LaGault’s argument seems to be that the whole world has stopped thinking, and therefore we are all going to perish. And as ranters go, LeGault is quite aggressive in his language, uses quick data to make points that appear specious, and offers arguments that seem shallow and superficial. Which is ironic, considering the theme of the book. Here are some LeGault-isms.

  1. It wasn’t as clear to me then as it is now that GM had committed the most grievous of sins in the business world. It had created and daily sanctioned a culture of unaccountability. As it had grown to dominate the industry, it had become the ultimate government project, insulated from customers, ideas, and the dynamics of the market. A culture of unaccountability is a culture without incentive, and a culture without incentive is the death of critical and creative thinking. (This strong judgment could have been palatable if it had been preceded by some really strong thinking; except that there are just the two examples that precede this assertion.)
  2. Despite its dubious meaning, or perhaps because of it, “stress” gets prolific coverage in the media. My search engine retrieved 80 million hits on stress in less than two-tenths of a second. Madonna, by comparison, netted 20 million hits, marijuana only 11 million. (Can we also conclude that Madonna is more popular than marijuana?)
  3. The people who succeed, find fulfillment, make a decent living under these new conditions will be the ones who understand that the fashionable dictates about the questionable relevance of formal, book-style learning and knowledge are themselves old-fashioned. This isn’t about solving the conundrum of the Unmoved Mover or an expanding universe. It’s about being able to express viewpoints and rationally debate important issues with family, friends, and colleagues. It’s about winning a contract with a company in India by being able to recite a few lines of the Bhagwat Gita. (What was that again?)

It’s a pity, really, because there are quite a few interesting facts and observations in Think. It’s just that while trying to bend everything in the direction of anti-Blink, LaGault ends up losing focus. Moreover, with the tone being so critical, the real arguments drown in a sea of vitriol.


Andrew said...

yeah, I had to read this book for school and i totally agree. I think the title got its name from him having to think about what to rant about... I mean who can rant about so many things so often?

De Scribe said...

Interesting, Andrew. What was the view of your classmates and the professors about the book? And under which subject was this required reading?