BookBrowse Reviews Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

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The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 288 pages
    Apr 2007, 320 pages

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Popular science meets self-help in No.1 NY Times bestseller

Comment: In his first book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell looked at why major societal changes often happen suddenly and unexpectedly. In Blink he examines the process of snap decision making: How do we make choices in the blink of an eye, apparently without conscious thought, and why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept?

Blink combines one part popular science, one part market research and one part self-help into a book that, if it were a meal, would be heavy on the canapés but light on the main course.

The basic premise is that, just as every cell in our body apparently has all the DNA needed to create a new us, each person has their own essential nature that is present in even the shortest observation of that person. In the same vein, each relationship has its essential nature that can be intuited within a very short amount of time. Gladwell refers to this process of observing someone or something for a short time and drawing predictions from this observation as "thin-slicing".

We thin-slice all the time, usually unconsciously and often, but not always, with surprising accuracy. For example, a psychologist named Nalini Ambady asked students to rate teachers they had not met on the basis of three 10-second soundless videotapes of the teacher lecturing. Their ratings matched those of the students who had had the teacher for a full semester. Even when the video clips were cut down to 2 seconds the ratings were remarkably similar.

In the extensive excerpt at BookBrowse you can read entertaining anecdotes such as how a total stranger could know more about you by spending 15 minutes in your bedroom than your friends know about you after years, and why some doctors get sued frequently while others never do. Then read how the British were able to learn valuable secrets from the German's Morse code, even though they didn't know what the code said, simply by recognizing the individual 'fist' of the sender.

However, once one looks past the many fun stories and conversational writing style, a lot of what Gladwell has to say seems a little obvious and it's not entirely clear what his thesis is. On the one hand he cites incidences where the snap judgment proved better than the decision made with deliberation;. on the other, he shows examples where jumping to a conclusion proved dangerously, even fatally, wrong. Sometimes we are shown examples of regular people who excel at snap judgments with no formal training; other times we hear from researchers who've spent decades honing their skills in the research lab.

If there is a concluding thought it is that by becoming conscious of the unconscious process by which we "thin-slice" we can become better at making snap decisions - a useful skill for all of us, but an essential one in some professions, such as those that require the carrying of a gun! To quote Gladwell, "snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled … Just as we can teach ourselves to think logically and deliberately, we can also teach ourselves to make better snap judgments."

This review is from the April 5, 2007 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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