Revisionist History

One podcast I’ve found to really enjoy lately is Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell. It seems to be in the same vein as his books – taking a deeper dive into what history deems to be a closed book. He exposes some new truth, new understanding or  tries to provide context for something we probably glossed right over.

The episode that stands out the most to me, which was the same episode that was used on This American Life to introduce those listeners (this is what got me hooked), was a podcast about why good ideas don’t spread necessarily. 

The story is about shooting free throws and how Rick Barry used the underhand, or granny shot, to be the third best free throw shooter in NBA history.

The short story is that this is what aided Wilt Chamberlain in his famous 100 point game. He made history and that record will never be broken. But why did he revert to his old method, shortly thereafter?

Short answer: because it looked stupid.

Rick Barry found this method to be proven to improve free throw percentage and Wilt Chamberlain proved it in the greatest basketball game ever played, and he’s still not convinced?

Gladwell’s theory is that there is some threshold that we have in order to change our behavior. In a mob, seeing 10 other people flip a car might pass your threshold for flipping cars. Your grandma might need to see 100 people do it before she jumps in. This holds true for Wilt.

It is also true for society at large. Why don’t people do what they know is right or good for them? Because the social pressure to do it is not greater than the pain of not doing it.

I’ll be listening to many more of his episodes and I hope to hear more interesting stories.

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