What the Dog Saw and other adventures by Malcolm Gladwell


“What the Dog Saw” is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite articles that were published in the New Yorker magazine, where he has been a staff writer since 1996. He tells us in the preface that the book is divided into three categories of articles. The first deals with what he calls obsessives and minor geniuses; the second is devoted to theories to ways of organizing experience. The third focuses on how we make predictions about people. 

Gladwell says the question he gets asked the most is “Where do you get your ideas?” He tells us that in this book he was going to try to figure out the answer, once and for all. Referring to one of the articles in the book on why no one has ever come up with a ketchup to rival Heinz, he said that he got the idea from a friend who was in the grocery business. He adds that “The trick is finding ideas to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell.” The 19 diverse articles he includes in this book do confirm that he draws from everywhere. 

The book helps us change the way we look at the world and the method used to do this doing has been labeled as “Gladwellian”. This refers to a counter-intuitive type of thinking where more than one source is explored and used in formulating conclusions. 

The article, “What the Dog Saw” shows this approach. It tells the story of Cesar Millan, a professional Dog Whisperer, and his work with Sugar, the bad dog, and her owners. Sugar's behavior is changed almost with the touch of Millan’s hand, and the owners are stunned. Gladwell is more interested in what is going on in the dog’s head than what is going on in Millan head, but the story is really about both Millan and Sugar. When we see the world from both their eyes we understand.

The story of “The Talent Myth” examines in detail the idea that the better the talent pool the better the results. Enron embraced this idea with an obsession and we see the experience from their eyes. In the end we are told that yes, they were looking for people who could look outside the box, but the problem turned out to be that it was the box that needed to be fixed or better said: “The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it’s the other way around.” 

Gladwell continues to add enough of a twist to ideas that you thought you understood to be well worth reading.


“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head.” 

“You don't manage a social wrong. You should be ending it.”

 “What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?”