J/Finished: Blink by Malcom Gladwell

June 9, 2009

I went camping last weekend and finished Blink on audiobook. Its an insightful book by Malcom Gladwell, from Tipping Point fame (which I haven’t read).  The book is mainly centered around the power of our subconscious to make snap decisions for us by processing tons of information “behind the locked door” of our conscious, logical thought processes.

He uses a term called “thin slicing” which basically refers to your mind’s ability to figure things out very quickly with a relatively  small sample of information. For example, you can make a relatively accurate judgment of a person’s attributes within the first few minutes of meeting him (i.e. speed dating). The surprising thing is that you would not gain that much more accuracy even with a lot more time and information (which we sometimes can’t afford). This can be applied to a lot of different topics, and it’s pointing out the fact that we can indeed oftentimes trust our gut instinct. The processing of information happens very quickly in our subconscious, and we usually can’t even give a logical explanation for the conclusion we have arrived at (at least not right away). The takeaway is that we should then take our gut reaction/ snap judgments more seriously than we sometimes do, and not always focus and rely so much on a long, drawn out analysis and problem solving methodolgy. Too much information and over-reliance on analysis can in fact become a hinderance and a counter-productive distraction.

A second point he makes is that we are all “primed” by society, media, etc to be more or less skewed towards certain mindsets (i.e. racist and superficial), whether we consciously know of it or not.  He used these word association tests to show that most people, himself included, have a negative association towards african americans (and he’s half black!).  He showed this study where they sent massive amounts of people with the same profile (college educated, upper middle class, with the same script) out to bargain for cars, and blacks were given over $1000 higher starting prices on average than whites, and even after bargaining for a set amount of time, the blacks ended up with higher prices than the whites opening offers. He also gave the example of Warren Harding, who was elected to president purely on the basis of his looks (awesome). People picked him because he “looked presidential” (I keep thinking Donald Draper).  He turned out to be arguably the worst president in US history. It takes training and intentional effort to overcome the negative ways we may have been “primed” to think automatically about things and people.

A last notable point is when thin slicing goes too far in times of high stress or lack of time. This is what happens when cops are in a chase and the brain is pumping a crazy adrenaline rush, causing everything to shut down and focus on survival. What happens is what he calls “temporary autism” where we lose the ability to process important things like what the other person might be thinking. When we get into these high stress, no time situations, we go too crazy with the thin slicing and it becomes detrimental to the situation. This is what happens when cops shoot kids thinking they have a gun when they really just have a cell phone.  They make foolish snap judgments that have terrible outcomes.  This is known as “the dark side of thin slicing”. We have to learn how to counter this through training ourselves to deal with high stress situations so that when they happen we are prepared and we can “slow them down” in our mind allowing the better, more accurate kind of thin slicing to take place.

Thats it, go read or listen to the book for more. I recommend it.


2 Responses to “J/Finished: Blink by Malcom Gladwell”

  1. wawa Says:

    this was a good book.

  2. timmy Says:

    this was a decent book.

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