Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of The Tipping Point, and with this book it will be interesting to see if people start using the phrase "thin-slicing" now. My friend Doug, who has read several of his articles in The New Yorker, said that he's become less interested in Gladwell because he's discovered his pattern: he picks a phenomenon, finds lots of examples, and explains it so it sounds really simple. But that also explains how he wrote a best-seller, and though Blink has a lot in common with The Tipping Point, the similarities are what made his first book such an easy read and I don't think it's all bad, either.

Blink is about the way that we make snap judgments and critical decisions seemingly without thinking. The decisions range from the way car salesmen treat minorities to how police react in a shootout to the way market research is handled. Gladwell's explanation of thin-slicing is that often decisions can be made better with just a thin slice of information rather than a lot of research and data; yet we can also be fooled into biased actions without knowing the reasons for our actions.

What impresses me is the way that Gladwell can take examples from various fields and tie them all together into a cohesive theory. I imagine him as one of those people who can just rattle off random interesting facts about scientific and sociological studies: "an inch of height is worth $789 a year in salary" due to our unconscious bias for tall people; you can tell if a doctor is likely to be sued just by listening to the sound (not even the words) of their voice during a conversation with a patient; marketing tests showed that the little sprig of parsley in Hormel's logo makes the food taste fresher.

But Gladwell's goal isn't just to point out interesting curiosities about the way we react to the world, but to try to change the way we approach things. A lot of the way rapid cognition works is difficult to explain and understand, but it can be guided, and knowing that we have unconscious biases can help us to "prime" ourselves in ways that can correct for them. Would the world be a better place if everyone took the lessons of Blink to heart? It's hard to say for sure, but at least we'd pay a little more attention to our decisions.

Fed to jonathan's brain | September 26, 2005 | Comments (0)


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