Last Updated on October 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 713
Chapter 4: Paul Van Riper's Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity
Paul Van Riper, a decorated retired Marine Corps general, served in the Vietnam and Desert Storm conflicts. When the U.S. Military's Joint Force Command began planning for massive war games to be held in 2000, they saw Van Riper as the perfect leader to play the enemy, a rogue Middle Eastern dictator. Unfortunately for them, Van Riper believed in throwing aside perfect planning and dependence on the newest technology (the strategy of the U.S.'s side). Instead, Van Riper reverted to his active duty days when he provided overall guidance to his men in the field but told them to use "their own initiative" and innovation as they went forward. Van Riper's plan worked perfectly. When the U.S. (the Blue Team) cut off Van Riper's communication lines and tried to force him and his troops to rely on traceable phone lines, Van Riper instead depended on humans carrying coded messages to one another. He did whatever he thought was the opposite of what the Blue Team thought he would do and soundly defeated the Blue Team even though he was outnumbered and outgunned. Similar examples of humans' using structured intuition (training themselves to be able to think spontaneously) are Brendan Reilly's changes in Cook County's infamous ER and an improv group in New York City that successfully performs a play after an audience member shouts out a topic.
Chapter 5: Kenna's Dilemma: The Right—and Wrong—Way to Ask People What They Want
In "Kenna's Dilemma," the author addresses the popular marketing technique of surveying potential customers, whether trying to sell albums for a music artist named Kenna or the infamous Pepsi Challenge of the 1980s. The chapter begins with a description of Kenna, an American child of Ethiopian immigrants, who tried to get a record deal. When music producers and execs listened to Kenna's eclectic music, they were enthralled and wanted to sign him. But when music marketers played one of Kenna's songs on a listening survey program, it scored very low among the average listeners. Thus, even though the music experts believed Kenna would be huge, they followed the results of the marketing survey and didn't sign him.
Similarly, in the Pepsi Challenge example from this chapter, Gladwell notes that Pepsi's 1980s campaign of offering random sip tests between Pepsi and Coke across the nation almost always resulted in people choosing Pepsi over Coke. This floored the executives at Coke. They immediately went to work on changing the Coke recipe that had produced the most popular cola in the world for decades. The end result was New Coke, a disaster. Coke's customers were so adamant in their dislike of New Coke (even though it was created to taste more like Pepsi—the winner of the taste test challenges) that New Coke lasted only six months. When researchers studied the strange anomaly of the Pepsi Challenge and the New Coke failure, they discovered that a sip test was not enough to establish one drink's popularity over another. One reason for the ineffectiveness of a sip test is that it's one thing to ask someone to take a sip of something that is extremely sweet (Pepsi is the sweeter cola) but quite another to ask someone to drink a whole glass of a sweet cola and then a glass of another cola. Additionally, people are affected more by brand loyalty than they are by the results of a marketing gimmick. Although challenge participants admitted that they chose Pepsi over Coke in the taste test, for most that did not seem to be enough for them to switch their cola loyalty.
In addition to his examples of Kenna and Coke, Gladwell discusses the seemingly unlikely success of "The Chair of Death," a strange-looking office chair that tested poorly with potential buyers because of its appearance but that ended up being its company's best-selling office chair. While Chapter 5 may seem to contradict Gladwell's thin-slicing theory, he explains near the chapter's end that experts like food tasters and record execs should not always rely on thin-sliced surveys. His reasoning is that experts have trained their subconscious to thin slice reliably, so they should trust that trained intuition more than poorly conducted or designed surveys and tests.