In his New York Times best selling books, like “Blink” and “Outlier”, Malcolm Gladwell looks below the surface of societal trends and phenomena to determine why things happen.
He joined The Herd today to analyze some modern sports trends, and explain why social pressure causes athletes and coaches to ignore the data and adopt better practices. Gladwell brought up the example of Wilt Chamberlain and free throws as an example.
Chamberlain, a notoriously terrible free throw shooter in his career, briefly switched to shooting free throws underhanded. Even though the underhand technique improved his free throw percentage by roughly 20 points to around 70%, he stopped shooting granny style because he didn’t want to be perceived as a “sissy”.
“It’s a classic example of how human beings place social considerations ahead of rational considerations. Lots of people in all kinds of situations continue to do stupid things because they care about how they are perceived by their peers, more than they care about what it means to be good at what they’re doing.”
Another example Gladwell used to show people’s unwillingness to go against societal norms, is the reluctance of football coaches to go for it on 4th and 1. The data clearly supports going for it, but boosters fire coaches.
“The evidence is in, that teams punt way too much. Way too much. Look, on 4th and 1, if you run the numbers, the advantage to your team of going for it is overwhelming. And yet All of these coaches. All of whom are extremely intelligent thoughtful people. They persist in doing it the old way. Why? Because they don’t want to take the social heat.”