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Malcolm Gladwell

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Malcolm Gladwell was on the Joe Rogan podcast to talk about his book and wander and wonder around as Joe Rogan does. This post will be about finding the truth.

The truth in a joke.

When asked why so many comics come from Boston, Rogan said, “It’s a hard place, mean women, drunk guys.” Audiences pay with their time (opportunity costs), their money (tickets), and social currency (getting a babysitter). Rogan said that comics must “quit fucking around and get to work.”

Gladwell asked whose fault it is when a joke bombs. “If it doesn’t go over most likely the joke sucks and you have these ideas and you need to rework them,” Rogan answered.

Listening to Rogan talk about good jokes reminded me a lot about The Mom Test. Created by Rob Fitzpatrick, it’s an approach to innovation that starts with the customer needs rather than the producer’s ideas. Comedians, like Rogan, have ideas but they need to test them. Only the real world provides the acid test for jokes, investments, or war.

The truth in a phonecall.

Rogan tells Gladwell about being lied to in person and on the phone and Malcolm wonders, “would you have done a better job if all I gave you was the transcript of this guy’s speech. There’s a lot of interest in this question in the community of people who have studied deception.”

On average, people are no better than chance at spotting liars. But that’s the average. When something is familiar, people believe it more. When liars are highly motivated, they get away with more, to a point. When judging something in different mediums, the medium matters. Gladwell explained, “It seems to be the case that we do better when we remove sight and sound and all we have are the plain words on the page.” For our understanding, mediums matter.

The truth in a book.

When asked how he writes, Gladwell said this:

“I type and then print it out because there are structural things you can only see, I think, when it’s on the page. Then I will annotate that draft with a pen. I think that our thinking is quite sensitive to the mode that we use it in. You think differently when typing on a keyboard than when you have a pen in your hand. One is not better than another, they’re both good, just different.”

This echoes something Neil Gaiman told Tim Ferriss, writing by hand produces something different. Rogan agreed, noting that he types his jokes because it’s fast but then he writes them longhand because it sticks.

The truth.

The idea Rogan and Gladwell circle is about conveying truths. One person wants another person to understand them, to see their truth as our truth. For this to happen we must consider the medium.

In his book, Presto, Penn Jillette writes that reality television competitions have multiple stakes. The first is what we see on the screen. Contestants, sell, build, run, and verb. A winner emerges and appears next week to do it again. Scenes are supercut for spectacle.

Second is what happens off-screen. Jillette calls this the “real competition,” and in his case it’s to “put asses in the Peen and Teller Theater seats.”

The truth that Jillette wants to convey is not that he’s good at selling, baking, or building on television but that he’s interesting and therefore his show is interesting too. The on-screen and off-screen nature of television is perfect for this truth.

As a comedian, Rogan wants to unearth and share jokes. He’s a cultural anthropologist and his fossil is funny. Gladwell and Gaiman are authors who want their voice in your head.

What’s ‘true’ is for people smarter than me. But how truths are shared is something we all can understand. Thanks for reading.

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