Playing the Weak-Link game (Malcolm Gladwell)

Some notes inspired by this interview with Malcolm Gladwell.

How do you make a soccer team better - by upgrading its worst player or best player? Worst player, because soccer is a weakest-link game. By identifying the weakest link and making it stronger will improve the team’s performance. Basketball by contrast is a strong-link game because you improve the team by bringing in a superstar.

In the West, we’ve been leading by playing a strong-link game. However, over the last 5-10 years the world has become increasingly a weak-link world because the world we’ve fashioned for ourselves is highly complicated and interconnected; it requires everyone on the field to work together.

Covid-19 is the classic weak-link crisis. The economies of the West have been brought down because of the lack of masks and PPE. The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough hospital beds, it’s that we don’t have enough nurses and protective gear for them. We are incurring trillions of dollars in economic damage because we don’t have on hand millions of dollars on medical supplies or the necessary front-line personnel. Our vulnerabilities are numerous, scattered and hidden.

We’ve spent too much time focusing on Medical Care and not Health Care.

We’ve spent too much time worrying about the 99th percentile and not the 50th percentile when it comes to health care. We’ve built facilities and research to the highest level for the most complicated and exotic illness. That’s not helping us right now. We don’t need the most exotic medicines, we need PPE. The world-class medical schools are helping us right now, instead we need more community colleges to turn out who we need.

The second most at risk group of people besides the elderly are people with underlying complications as co-morbidities: hyper-tension, diabetes, heart-disease, resperitory problems. These are garden variety ailments caused by bad environments or lifestyle choices. We’ve spent more time focusing on the more exotic and intellectually satisfying aspects of medical rather than focusing on basic health care.

At the end of the talk, Gladwell makes a valuable point about the pros and cons of a society made up from a diverse, cognitive collective. In a free society that has thrived and survived for as long as it has because it has a diversity of opinion is because we have vigorous debates that push each side into deep thinking to justify its position. The price of that is that we’ll never get immediate acceptance of a new reality; it will always be staggered.

This was brought up in the context of why hasn’t global climate change changed people’s minds. His answer was that it is doing that but slowly and staggered. We’re at the point that the scientific community is now finally in almost unanimous agreements but the population is next. There are activists on board but it has yet to trickle through to the entire population.