Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker since 1996. His first book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference was published in 2000 to amazing acclaim and both it and Blink are international bestsellers, each having reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
Blink, like The Tipping Point, is full of illustrative examples as Gladwell makes his case. It is easy to see why both books found such appeal as his easy-flowing style and these highly interesting illustrations make both books easy to read as they win readers over.
Gladwell examines “thin slicing” – the rapid decision making that the Subconscious Mind can achieve “in a blink” – and makes the point about how accurate such rapid-fire decisions can be. His case studies include a group of antiquities experts presented with a seemingly ancient marble sculpture and a fire chief confronted by a kitchen fire which could not be extinguished despite being inundated with water. In the case of the sculpture, some of the experts immediately decided it was a fake.
In the case of the fire chief, he quickly realized that factors other than a simple kitchen fire were in play. Bath snap judgments were correct, illustrating the role the Subconscious Mind plays in such quick decisions.
Gladwell’s point is that such spot decisions are quite powerful and stack up remarkably well when compared to logical, reasoned, well-thought-out conclusions which might take some time to reach. He balances this view with the proviso that, in stressful situations such as the fire, people who manage to keep their heart rate at a reasonable 110-120 can make such good decisions while those who jump to a 160 beat often make disastrous snap judgments. A detailed analysis of the incident where four relatively inexperienced policemen managed to pump 41 bullets into an unarmed Armadou Diallo in 1999 in the South Bronx area of New York amply illustrates snap judgments gone haywire.
One of the most topical, and illustrative examples used in Blink is the infamous “war game” which preceded the Iraq invasion. Two teams were assembled – the Red Team led by Vietnam veteran Paul Van Riper, whose job it was to be the Saddam Hussein-style figure leading a mythical Middle East Country in defense against the might of the United States war machine – the Blue Team.
Van Riper’s history fitted him well for the role – he had learned the value of snap judgments in Vietnam and elsewhere. While the vast computer power that was leading the Blue Team’s multi-fronted effort seemed to ensure their quick victory, the Red Team reacted in a totally unexpected manner on a number of fronts, inflicted major damage on the “invaders” and won the day. Without going into too much detail here, the ability to think and react quickly was the key to Van Riper’s success. The Red Team had rapid cognition on their side while the Blue Team had hugely impressive, but ponderous, technology and decision making processes.
This is Gladwell’s way: interesting story follows interesting story until such a body of evidence is built for his argument that you find yourself agreeing wholeheartedly. And the life lesson is simple – trust your Subconscious Mind whenever it is reasonable to do so.
WHAT OTHERS SAID ABOUT Blink
“Trust my snap judgment, buy this book: you’ll be delighted” – The New York Times
“Brilliant…the implications for business, let alone love, are vast” – The Observer
“Blink might just change your life” – Esquire