Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

A one sentence summary of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: “If you know what information is important and what to ignore, use your experience, recognize any bias you may have, and take a couple extra seconds if you need, then your snap decision could be as good as – or better than – a lengthy analysis.”

A high-level overview of each section:

The Statue That Didn’t Look Right

Gladwell sets up his thesis for the book.  First, he wants to examine how quick decisions are just as good as or better than decisions made cautiously and deliberately.  Second, he wants to examine the times where we may have a bias that can lead to an incorrect decision, but we can manage this bias through awareness.  Third, he argues we can teach ourselves to make better snap judgements through learning.

The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way

When you know what to look for and zero in on what matters, thin-slicing is just as good as an extensive study. You can learn just as much from two seconds of interaction as you could with more time.  His best example was a psychologist who accurately dissects marriages within moments based on thin slices of their conversations by looking for “the Four Horsemen: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt… if [the psychologist] observes one of both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that a marriage is in trouble (32).”

The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions

Your decision can be primed; for example, when someone starts a conversation with positive words, there is a positive association for whatever follows.  It can also be influenced by what’s in front of you, like eating ice cream when you are on a diet.  Sometimes what someone says will be different from what someone does. (These were my own examples.)

The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall For Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men

The section notes prejudices we may have, including race.  “Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions – we can alter the way we thin-slice – by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions (97).”

Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity

The section focuses on the “less is more” aspect through using a looser management style, letting go of the need to know what’s happening “on the ground,” and in trusting your associates to know what they’re doing without direction.  Overloading yourself with information can limit your success as a leader.  (Alternate title: Don’t be a micromanager.)

Valuable snippet: “’We would use the wisdom, the experiences, and the good judgement of the people we had’… Allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly turns out to be like the rule of agreement in improv [because] it enables rapid cognition (119).”

Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right – and Wrong – Way to Ask People What They Want

Market research may not be useful if the new product is something that the test users are unfamiliar with.  The test user may not be able to thin-slice well if they don’t have enough experience or exposure. Instead, relying on the experts in the field may yield better market results.

Seven Seconds in the Bronx: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading

The main point of the chapter was that if you don’t slow down your decision making, it could lead to a mistake you can’t come back from.

Listening With Your Eyes: The Lessons of Blink

The final section focused on a female musician who nailed her “blind” trombone audition (she played from behind a screen) and was hired because she was the best but then faced years of sexism from the conductor.  It was only once blind auditions became more mainstream that women started getting hired for orchestras.  The conductors had to be forced to focus on the first two seconds of playing instead of the first two seconds of seeing the women sit down with their instruments.  In this case, overcome bias by taking away what you see and focusing only on what you hear.

In Summary…

I thought there were some interesting snippets from the book, but an article or a shorter book would have been a more appropriate format.  He provides some interesting anecdotes, but overall I was disappointed.  Even though it slightly increased my awareness of my own experiences and potential biases, it doesn’t address how to work to overcome the issues.  All decisions require context, so there isn’t necessarily a “one-size-fits-all” to decision making, but I don’t need 250 pages to understand “become an expert, and then trust your gut.”

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