Malcolm Gladwell — Why People Can’t Express What They Really Mean and Feel

Malcolm Gladwell podcastThis is another mind-bending podcast that will change how you perceive others’ responses about your work. Malcolm Gladwell, a well-known essayist for the New Yorker, explains that the aeron chair — similar to our modern computer chair that we all love to sit in all day — was originally despised and deemed ugly. It didn’t catch on for 2 years, and then it quickly became the most popular chair. Everyone came to love it.

Through various experiments and studies, Gladwell concludes that people find responses about some topics extremely difficult to articulate. While they may think they dislike something (like the aeron chair), in their hearts they may actually like it. There is a disconnect that causes people to express dislike in their heads while they actually like it in their hearts (and vice versa). Worse, when people are pressed for a reason, they cross their true feelings even more plainly. Here’s an excerpt from IT Conversations:

Malcolm explores why we can’t trust people’s opinions — because we don’t have the language to express our feelings. His examples include the story of New Coke and how Coke’s market research misled them, and the development of Herman-Miller’s Aeron chair, the best-selling chair in the history of office chairs, which succeeded in spite of research that suggested it would fail.

This podcast is truly fascinating and worth listening to.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for a gamification company called Badgeville in the Silicon Valley area in California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), content development (DITA, testing), API documentation (code examples, programming), web publishing (web platforms, Web design) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS or by email. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

7 thoughts on “Malcolm Gladwell — Why People Can’t Express What They Really Mean and Feel

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  3. computer chair

    This just goes to show that quantitative and qualitative market research needs to be used together to make informed decisions. Another lesson is limiting and managing risk.

    In the case of New Coke, they should have only release it on a test city first to get feedback before going national with it.

    With the Aeron chair, same thing. Build a limited run and see how well it sells.

    The best example is in Australia why the accounts decided to axe the V8 engine option from it’s line up because it wasn’t selling that well.

    What they didn’t realise is that the V8 was an aspirational car even though most people bought the V6 and they lost a lot of customers to competitors who did offer V8s.

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  5. BonMuse

    “….none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.” (a favorite quote)

    Four stars for Malcolm’s posts.

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