Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: Book Review; March'08

Title:Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author:Malcolm Gladwell

Publication details:  Allen Lane, Great Britain, 2005

Number of pages:277 pages

Ever assessed a person the moment you met him and then later found out that the assessment was right. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best seller 'The Tipping Point’ writes yet another engaging book ‘Blink’ about how brilliant decisions makers make their judgement in the blink of an eye. It shows how we can hone our instinctive ability in order to become better decision makers in our homes, offices and everyday life.

Blink explores how a part of the brain can leap instantly to conclusions based on very little information. The book opens with the story of a magnificently preserved ancient Greek statue about to be purchased by the Getty Museum in California for about $10 million. After 14 months of investigation, the Getty staff had concluded that the statue was genuine. But an art historian taken to see it, in an instant decided it was fake. Further investigations revealed that the statue had been sculptured by Roman forgers in the early 1980's. The analysts who did research turned out to be wrong. The historian who relied on his initial hunch was right.

In our brains there is, Gladwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will subconsciously. Through this we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions. And the good news is… "The power of knowing, in that first two seconds…. is an ability we can all build for ourselves." The key is to understand and enhance a natural human adeptness at ‘thin slicing’ picking up on patterns in situations based on very narrow slices of experience. Gladwell cites successful people who trust what they know, instead of succumbing to ‘paralysis through analysis.’

What I found interesting is the way people rely on the accuracy of such assessments even when they are dangerously wrong. The book describes this ‘dark side of rapid cognition’ with examples of voters electing Warren G. Harding, one of the worst presidents, because he looked presidential. It also shows how snap decisions can lead us astray if they're rooted, for example, in cultural prejudices with the instance of the New York police shooting and killing an unarmed immigrant because they misread his intentions.

But thankfully the book says that such behavior can be anticipated if it is better understood, and can be modified. ''Every moment -- every blink -- is composed of a series of discrete moving parts,'' he writes, ''and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction.'' And like Galdwell rightly points out "It doesn't seem like we have much control over whatever bubbles to the surface from our unconscious. But we do, and if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition. We can protect people fighting wars, or manning emergency rooms….from making mistakes."

Nothing new here I would say, but what is new is the way Gladwell uses fascinating stories to explain his ideas. For instance in an experiment he describes, consumers invited to rank 44 different jams ranked them similar to a panel of food experts. Then another nonexpert group was asked to rank the jams, but with detailed explanations for the ranking. Result: The rankings were drastically different. Gladwell thus justifies the point of how "introspection destroyed people's ability to solve insight problems." Now I know why when I ask my husband “Why do you love me?” he is unable to give an adequate explanation. He just knows. So next time data tells you something and your intuition tells you something else, there is every reason you should explore further. With its blend of anecdotes and academic research Blink is a brilliant book. A book you must definitely read!