Blink - The Power of Thinking without Thinking



Book Author: Malcom Gladwell

Book Review by : S S George
Director, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)



Blink, Malcom Gladwell, first impressions, decision, experiments, aggressively, bold, rude, bother, disturb, espect, considerate, politely, patiently, yield, thin slicing, intuitive repulsion, white space

Abstract: Blink provides new perspectives on the way we think and behave. In Malcom Gladwell's book, jumping to conclusions is not always a bad thing. The book also relates several interesting experiments and stories that reinforce this seemingly counterintuitive contention.

Blink is a fascinating book that extols the virtues of snap-decisions. The pitfalls of excessive analysis have long been well understood; but this book goes further, arguing that immediate decisions based on first impressions are often more accurate than decisions taken based on a great deal of thought and analysis. It also gives numerous examples to support this seemingly counterintuitive conclusion.

This, of course, is not to say that snap decisions are always right. The author of the book, Malcom Gladwell, also presents the downside of snap decisions, showing how our prejudices can, and very often, do influence our decisions. In one of the most interesting chapters in the book, the author discusses the power of association - how, unconsciously, even something being so trivial as being exposed to a set of carefully chosen words designed to convey a particular impression can influence our subsequent behavior. In one of the experiments described in the chapter, experimental subjects were exposed to two sets of carefully chosen words, and then asked to walk to a room down the hall and talk to the person running the experiment. When the subjects arrived at the door of the room, they would find that the experimenter, whom they were supposed to meet, was busy, engaged in conversation with an associate.

The subjects primed with words such as "aggressively," "bold," "rude," "bother," and "disturb" took about 5 minutes on an average to interrupt the conversation. Amazingly, a great majority of the persons primed with words such as "respect," "considerate," "politely," "patiently" and "yield," never interrupted at all. They stood at the doorway to the room, waiting for the conversation to finish. Phenomena such as these explain many of our prejudices regarding race, gender, appearance, and even height.

According to the author, snap decisions are taken based on what he calls "thin slicing", which is our ability "to find patterns in situation and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience." By thin-slicing, people exposed to a surfeit of information zero in on the most salient bits needed to take a good decision.

The book opens with the story of the purchase of a Kouros - a statue of a nude male youth, from the sixth century BC - by the J Paul Getty Museum in California. The museum conducted extensive scientific tests to establish the authenticity of the piece, and consulted several experts. Many of the experts in statuary from the period knew almost instantaneously that the statue was a fake, even though they could not describe the reasons why they thought so. For one, the word 'fresh'popped into his mind when he saw the statue; another felt a wave of "'intuitive repulsion." Eventually, the museum bought the piece - which, subsequently, was exposed as a fake.

According to the author, this is an excellent example of thin-slicing. When faced with the statue, rather than examine it carefully and arrive at a conclusion about whether it was fake or not, the experts looked at some of its crucial features, did a few calculations, and came to the conclusion that it was a fake. At the same time, those who examined the statue in minute detail were unable to recognize that it was a fake. And why did the Getty museum go ahead and buy the statue, even though they knew that there were serious questions about its authenticity? According to the author, it was because they wanted to believe that it was genuine - and so they did, even in the face of conflicting evidence.

Even more examples of thin-slicing are provided in the book. University of Washington psychologist John Gottman can view a 15 minute video of a married couple, and predict with a success rate of around 90 percent, whether the couple would still be together after 15 years. Even more amazingly, Gottman and his colleague Sybil Carrere discovered that even by watching a three minute tape of a couple talking, they could predict with good accuracy whether the marriage would survive.

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