on June 23, 2005
Extremely interesting book with insightful theories on why and how we make decisions. Unfortunately, you don't find out until the disappointing end that the "chapters" were independent essays. As with most books, I looked forward to finding out how the author will wrap everything up and tie the stories together in the end. Apparently, Gladwell either didn't feel it was necessary, or ran out of steam. The ending was so abrupt that I found myself frantically scanning the notes at the end for some sort of closure (to no avail). That said... I do think this book is worth reading. Just read it as if it was a group of short stories, so you won't be disappointed.
Like The Tipping Point, Blink has a very simple point which it elaborates from a variety of perspectives. In this case, the point is that our subconscious mind can integrate small, subtle clues to very quickly make great decisions . . . as long as we have been trained to know what clues to focus on.
In developing that simple idea, Mr. Gladwell makes the case for "going with your gut" in many instances . . . especially when time is of the essence (such as during emergencies and in combat). He also rescues analysis to show how analysis can train people to know what to look for so they can use their instincts more effectively.
But instincts have a downside. Based on conditioning, we make associations that are harmful to ourselves and to others. He recounts how an innocent man became a victim of under trained, over stimulated police officers and how even African-Americans display prejudice against African-Americans.
Most of the book is devoted to looking at prejudice and how to overcome it. For those who are interested in that subject, this book will be much more interesting than for those who want to understand how to improve their decision-making.
I thought that the book failed to reach the average mark as a book about how to improve decision-making. There's no real guidance for what we can each do to improve our important decisions. We are just left with hope that we can do better. I graded the book up a bit because I liked the insights into racism.
I thought the material on branded products was much too long and didn't add anything to what I knew already.
Mr. Gladwell writes well, though, so it's mostly a pleasant trip in the book. He makes science more interesting, but leaves a bit too much of the science out to make the results satisfying. He's writing for a dumbed-down audience with science backgrounds at the 8th grade level.
The book's opening made me feel like I was really going to learn something. As the book continued, I found myself disappointed compared to the high expectations that the opening set for learning better decision-making practices. As a result, all I got from the book was to pay attention to external clues and my own physiological cues as I react to a situation. I already do that, so I felt that the book didn't really deliver a solid benefit to me beyond teaching me a few new stories about decision makers.
There is plenty of food for thought in the pages of Blink. Malcolm Gladwell does indeed, to some degree, inspire you to rethink your whole way of thinking. I'm not sure how much of a practical effect the book has on a reader, though, because Gladwell never really comes out with a systematic method for training yourself to think differently. I would sum the book up this way: Your unconscious is smarter than you are - but not always. It isn't that radical of an idea. We've all been such advice as: if you don't know the answer, go with your first instinct; you never get a second chance to make a first impression; and the ubiquitous follow your gut. What Gladwell does is validate these sorts of common sense notions. Going further, though, he also describes situations in which your unconscious can lead you astray. Ideally, one must strike a balance between instinct and deliberation.
The book features all manner of excellent examples to fit Gladwell's argument - although at times, it gets a little bogged down in minutiae (such as a veritable laundry list of scientific names for facial muscles). First, he talks about a Greek statue that was scientifically verified as authentic but almost immediately declared a fake (and rightly so) by a number of experts in that form of art. How could these experts see the truth instantaneously? Why can other people see and know things that logic dictates it is impossible to know? These are the questions Gladwell asks. It all comes down to thin-slicing, he tells us. Thin-slicing involves the filtering out of all but the most relevant data, and the human unconscious thrives at this special skill. Then comes the more interesting part - ask someone to explain how he knew something spontaneously, and he/she will struggle to do so. What is more, the very effort to describe one's reaction makes the person less sure of his/her conclusions. From here, it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to the argument that too much information can sometimes be a bad thing. This would seem to be bad news to those of us who prefer to sit and study about something before coming up with an opinion. It isn't always the case, mind you, but too much deliberation about too many things can be more of a hindrance than a help.
Thus, after showing what an unacknowledged genius our unconscious is, Gladwell proceeds to demonstrate how the unconscious sometimes gets things horribly wrong. He uses real world examples such as the Pepsi Challenge (and goes on to explain why New Coke seemed like a good idea at the time yet failed miserably), the shooting of an unarmed man by police officers, and the success of market-testing failures such as All in the Family. A number of fascinating insights are gleaned in the process: perception affects satisfaction, stereotypes (even those you strongly rebuke consciously) affect feelings and behavior, mood can be affected just by adopting certain facial expressions, spontaneity is not random, and others.
There is a level of contradiction worked into the book. Sometimes, for example, first impressions are right on the money, and sometimes they are not a good indicator at all. How do you know the difference? Sometimes, less information is more valuable than more, but sometimes it isn't. Gladwell's point is that sound decision making is borne of a balance between instinctive, reactive realization and deliberate, studied conclusions. I think he pretty well proves the point, but he doesn't really give us a road map for finding that balanced place. Thus, the book is made up mostly of thought-provoking, fascinating stories and examples. It makes for fascinating reading, but I'm not sure it will actually change the way I think about things on a routine basis.
on March 20, 2006
Malcolm Gladwell takes a "gee wiz" approach to the topic of split-second decision making, tossing around research without discrimination or critical analysis, and not following through on the implications of what he's saying.
For example, he starts with an example of an art forgery that the scientific tests missed while several art experts could tell "in a blink" that there was something fishy. Interesting anecdote and let's assume that it's true. Would any one of those art experts advise that scientific testing should no longer be used to detect forgeries? Of course not. Would any of them be able to detect forgeries on a consistent basis by gut reaction? No. Gladwell reads way too much into the anecdote. He also doesn't seem to get the fact that most of his examples of split-second decision making are done by people who are highly trained in the subject. A closer analogy might be learning to play the piano.
A much, much better take on this material (also a more engaging read) is Jay Ingram's "Theatre of the Mind: Raising the Curtain on Consciousness."
on October 7, 2005
I am glad I didn't buy this book. I heard reviews, I even caught part of a reading that the author did for a Toronto area event, and all the wonderful things that he talked about were very intriguing. But, my library already had a copy, so I read it. The momentous examples of split decision occurences were enticing but the promise of revelationary explanation for the sociology behind the burned pathways of our psyche is left unfulfilled. Not once was I satisfied with the why of the decision offered by the author. No insight offered, no learned opinion nor alterior reference for an interested party to turn to in order to better understand the anthropology of our patterned lives.
Everyone makes snap judgments about people, places, and events. Sometimes those judgments are correct, other times not. But what if you're forced to make a big decision in a matter of seconds? What processes in your brain help you make that decision, and how do you prevent bad decisions from happening?
Through fascinating studies and real life examples, Malcom Gladwell explores these concepts and much more in this book. As Gladwell states, there are three purposes to the book. First, to show that quick decisions can be just as good as decisions made after slow, careful deliberation. Second, to identify when we should trust our instincts and when we should be wary of them; and third, to persuade the reader that snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled.
To demonstrate Gladwell's points, plenty of pages are devoted to studies and examples that made the book sound like a marketing textbook at times. Descriptions of the many types of facial expressions were so detailed that it became monotonous. Also, I would have liked more tips about how to control snap decisions, but the book certainly gave me a better understanding of why and how first impressions are made. Having said this, Blink is a worthwhile read, and the concepts will compel you to reevaluate those snap decisions you make in your life.
on February 24, 2006
This is one of the most fascinating books I have read in some time. The book centers on the concept of how fast we really do make judgments, called "thin slicing", and how deeper analysis can sometimes provide less information than more. It is all about cognitive speed.
The concept of "thin slicing" is dissected and explained. What I found fascinating, and also common sense, is that we process information on a subconscious level, "behind the door", and process so holistically that to over analyze can actually hinder our ability to make decisions.
Several key points are applicable in business. One of the in depth studies looked at a military leader who was particularly successful. One of his more poignant observations was that a great leader needs to let the people do their work. When deciding how often to follow up "you are diverting them, now they are looking upward instead of downward. You are preventing them from resolving the situation". (Page 118) Further "allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly ... enables rapid cognition" (Page 119). It seems that most micro-management actually prevents people from successful decision making.
Another strange phenomenon occurs when we try and explain how we come to some conclusions. It seems that the more we try to analyze how we come to some conclusions the less reliable they become.
The ability to absorb and detect minute changes in facial expressions allows us to essentially "read minds" if we pay attention. There are several chapters on how reliable we can be in predicting behavior with very little information.
Overall, this book is so well written that I had a hard time putting it down. My only compliant, and it is a minor one, is that the book just ends. No summary or wrap up, just "boom", it's over. However, that is more a testament to how engaging the book is I suppose. Another book worth looking at is " The Quest " by Giorgio Kostantinos. Highly recommended!
on August 25, 2013
I would highly recommend this non-fiction book by the author of the best-selling book Tipping Point – which I also loved. This book offers a unique view of “thinking without thinking”.
It presents a well researched look at how our “over-thinking” can be detrimental to us, and how we should listen more often to our “gut instincts” and intuition. This is especially true in this era of information overload, where we often find ourselves paralysed with so many options and choices.
Gladwell writes in a compelling manner that keeps you reading and gives you plenty to think about. You too will most likely find yourself nodding away with him throughout the book.
Diana Young, #1 Amazon best-selling author of Financial Fitness for Beginners and world traveler, currently sailing for six months each year in the South Pacific.
on January 17, 2007
I found the whole book very enjoyable, although chapters four and five had a little too much detail for me.
This book is a must read as it clearly presents the role that your unconscious mind plays in decision making. A role that is often discounted and replaced by detailed analytical analysis. In the blink of an eye, your unconscious mind is able to give you insights about a specific situation or object. You may not be able to articulate these insights or justify them to others. However, they are often correct. The author describes a psychologist who can predict whether a marriage will last based on a few minutes observing the couple. This analysis is based on what is called "thin slicing" - focusing on the few factors that are critical, without over analyzing. Indeed, great decision makers are often those who have perfected the art of "thin slicing".
However, the author also points out situations where your unconscious mind can lead you astray. For example when you have been culturally conditioned to believe in a certain way or where you have been conditioned to make certain associations. The author illustrates how people who are not racist, including blacks, can be unconsciously biased (slightly, but enough to make a difference) against blacks.
If you are a police officer, thinking of becoming one or know someone who is, you will find Chapter Six: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading very interesting.
on May 23, 2006
This book shared powerful information about how our unconsious mind picks up on cues in our surroundings much quicker than our conscious mind can. It has taught me how to read what my unconscious is trying to tell me when I get a "feeling" about something or someone. My unconscious registers little, quick-as-lightning nuances that may leave me with a sense of uneasiness, but I can't quite put my finger on it.
The author teaches how to get in touch with what our unconscious may have perceived, so that we can make more reliable decisions about whether to go ahead into certain situations, or whom and what to trust. He shares case studies, such that you can see that this is not some random untested theory of his, but rather, that his conclusions are based on reliable, reproducible data.
Blink has helped me to identify and trust my instincts more, freeing me from the paralysis of ever-waffling decision-making. I feel more confident in my decisions now, and find myself happier with the choices I am making.