|Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking|
|publisher||Little, Brown (January 11, 2005)|
|summary||This book discusses in narrative style the mechanics of subconscious snap decisions.|
First, Gladwell introduces a concept called "thin-slicing." This involves the human brain's critical reduction of information to make predictions about complicated systems. For example, a system developed at the University of Washington can predict with 95% accuracy whether a couple will be divorced within fifteen years, based entirely upon one hour of observed interaction.
Next, Gladwell discusses analogous ways the human brain uses thin-slicing to make subconscious snap decisions. Interestingly, this rapid decision-making process can easily be primed by external influences. External influences affect more decisions than many people care to admit; these factors form the basis for snap judgments and first impressions.
Gladwell relates a study of how well a subject's personality was evaluated either by strangers who visited the subject's dorm room for fifteen minutes or by friends that knew the subject well. Friends were more accurate about extraversion and agreeableness, but the strangers were better at gauging conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to new experiences. Thin-slicing isn't always correct; it depends on having the right information.
Superficial traits can be used to the advantage of an actor trying to project a particular characterization. Similarly, an authority figure can dress and behave in a particular fashion to influence subordinates. Warren G. Harding made overwhelmingly positive first impressions throughout his political career, although he is considered by historians to be one of the worst American presidents. Despite his consistently lackluster performance, his attractive bearing and appearance camouflaged his shortcomings.
On the other hand, by understanding the fallibilities of intuition, one can influence others' unconscious decision-making processes and be more aware of influences on one's own intuition. People can control and develop their intuitive decision-making skills. For instance, a successful car salesman would never be distracted by the appearance of a customer to the detriment of a sale. A portion of the book discusses physiological tests that reveal the strength of stereotypes in subconscious decision making by measuring reaction times.
Having defined the capabilities and limitations of intuitive decision-making, Gladwell spends a chapter focusing on spontaneity through the story of General Paul Van Riper and Millennium Challenge '02. A technologically advanced military with a vast array of information collection and "common operational picture" was pitted against a less technologically capable adversary led by General Van Riper. Much as David defeated Goliath, Van Riper's force inflicted staggering losses on his information-gorged enemy. His victory illustrates the utility of pre-arranged structure (such as "commander's intent" or "desired endstate") to empower subordinates to make spontaneous decisions. The fog of war couldn't really be defied, but decision makers could be trained to cope well with uncertainty.
The latter parts of the book discuss how intuitive decision-making can fall short. Humans' senses and subconscious minds can be negatively affected in stressful environments where stimuli are distorted and thin-slicing can easily go awry. Gladwell takes examples from recent developments in police procedures designed to avoid situations that adversely affect law enforcement personnel. For instance, many departments make their officers patrol individually. Without partners, they are more likely to wait for backup before entering dangerous situations. The author also performs a detailed deconstruction of the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York City. He concludes that the tragedy was not a product of conscious injustice, but simply a chain reaction of impaired snap decisions made within seven seconds of violence.
Overall, Blink makes for a quick read and is sure to stimulate conversation. Its premise is simple, and it contains ample food for thought. Its discussion of priming the intuition with particular stimuli and impaired "thin-slicing" provides a useful tool in deconstructing human behavior. The strengths and weaknesses of intuition-priming and thin-slicing are useful knowledge for any professional decision-maker.
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