This summary and review of the book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking was prepared by David Udeh while an Accounting student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.
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When I first bought the book Blink, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The subtitle The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is of course an oxymoron; how can one possibly not think when he or she is thinking? I also suspected that if the title includes “blink” and “think,” I suspected it was a tongue-in-cheek manual on making decisions in crucial situations in the workplace and in everyday life. What I didn’t expect was a book that detailed so vividly, with dark themes, humor, and common sense, how our unconscious mind controls the way we human beings live our lives. Blink is essentially a book teaching us about the power of our snap decisions and natural instincts and why we should pay as much attention to these as to the conscious decisions that we make.
The book is written by New York Times-bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell and is divided into an introduction, six chapters, a conclusion, and an afterword. The introduction, “The Statue that Didn’t Look Right,” which details how the eyes and instincts of several art experts exposed a highly valued kouros (Greek statue of a male) as a forgery, takes the reader directly into what the book is about. The author offers three lessons to be learned throughout the reading of the book: that decisions made “in the moment” are just as important as decisions made deliberately; that we need to know when to trust that “computer” making these snap decisions and when to be wary of it; and that we can control our first impressions and snap judgments.
The first three chapters explain these lessons in more detail. In Chapter 1, “The Theory of Thin Slices,” Gladwell provides numerous examples, notably lab experiments, that prove how powerful “thin-slicing,” or making educated predictions or assumptions based on few clues, can be in determining, for example, how long couples will be married or the openness of a student to new ideas or what the enemy’s next move on the battlefield will be. Chapter 2 talks about “The Locked Door,” that hides our unconscious minds from our conscious brains. It was in this chapter that I learned we essentially have two minds (deliberative and instinctive), and that we need to know when to rely on one or the other, or possibly even both. Chapter 3 talks at length about “The Warren Harding Error.” Just as one political boss’s first glance ultimately produced one of the nation’s worst Presidents in Harding, one should not always trust their preconceptions or instincts but get to know exactly what they’re getting oneself into.
In the next three chapters, we see real-life applications of the lessons put forth by Gladwell. Chapter 4, “Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory,” tells the story of how the former Vietnam commander’s no-frills approach to war scored him a big win in the Pentagon-designed war game “Millennium Challenge” in 2002. Chapter 5, “Kenna’s Dilemma,” illustrates the difficulty that the music artist Kenna had getting his songs on the radio because of a few negative ratings by radio listeners; in this chapter points out how such surveys may not be an accurate reflection of what the public really wants. Finally, in Chapter 6, “Seven Seconds in the Bronx,” the killing of Amadou Diallo by four police officers in 1999 demonstrates how, when made under pressure and in danger, split-second decision making can go terribly wrong.
The conclusion of the book, “Listening with Your Eyes,” includes a short piece on the discrimination Abbie Conant experienced after auditioning for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, all because she was a woman. Yet it was her audition, from behind a screen, that amazed the judges and convinced them that “she was who they wanted.” The screen serves as both a reminder to not “listen with our eyes” and cloud our better judgment; and to appreciate people for not only who they are, and what they can do. Finally, the afterword basically rounds up what the reader should have learned throughout Blink, with a few more supporting stories that drive home three lessons to have been learned in the book: that the ability to act instinctively can be derailed; that the nature of snap-judging requires us to forgive those in situations where good judgment is difficult; and that sometimes it’s better to know less and go with your gut.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is a well-written, research-oriented book that seeks to demystify and make known the power of using the unconscious mind. Blink has opened my eyes to the split-second decision making to which we don’t even give a split second’s thought. I believe that the lessons proffered by Blink will be very useful to anyone who needs guidance on decision-making in the workplace and in his or her daily life.
The Ten Things Managers Need to Know from Blink
1. Snap decisions have as much value as conscious ones. In a pressure-packed environment, where time is the exact equivalent of money, sometimes it’s easier, and better, to trust your gut rather than your knowledge.
2. Taste tests, surveys, and ratings aren’t everything. They are merely samples of what a few people think, not what the general public wants. You might have to disregard some samplings and tests and move on with releasing your product. Don’t let the opinions of a few people hinder you.
3. In the same vein as number #2, you can’t please everybody. It’s impossible to determine from such tests and experiments what the people really want. That’s why it’s good to be a little diverse in product offerings.
4. Spontaneity isn’t random. To make spontaneous decisions is not to pursue or change a strategy out of the blue, but rather to have sufficient education and experience and have good rapid cognition of what the company is and believes in, where the company is now and why, and the company’s capabilities to better the situation; all without needing much prompting or research.
5. Sometimes, less is more. The less information is needed in a situation, the better for the company. Less information to be processed means less costs of processing the information and more resources directed toward acting instead of planning. Planning is good, but too much planning can be harmful for a company’s progress.
6. Occasionally, first impressions can be bad ones. Not that every first impression of a customer is wrong; but as a manager, try to treat customers the same (hopefully in a good way) regardless of your very first impressions of the customers. Learn to see the need, not the needy.
7. “You can observe a lot by watching,” according to Yogi Berra. Instead of asking questions all the time, try reading customers’ faces once in a while. They can tell you a lot about their feelings and their likes/dislikes without having to say a word.
8. It’s one thing to have made a good product. It’s another thing to package the product well, if packing is necessary. Always consider first impressions before releasing products. In order to make more customers buy the product, it has to be as appealing on the outside as it is on the inside.
9. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “beware of rashness.” Sometimes it’s not good to go with your instincts. Be rational if the situation requires rationality and be quick if the situation keeps you on your toes. To make spur-of-the-moment decisions without immediately considering where you are and what your company is up against can be quite disastrous for you and for your company.
10. See your customers for who they really are. Make sure your snap decisions (if you must make any when dealing with customers) are educated and controlled. Put aside any misconceptions when dealing with customers. Making the right decision in that one moment may be a life-changing one for the customer, the company, and you.
Full Summary of Blink
In all honesty, I am not very good at thinking on my feet. More specifically, I am quite challenged when that thinking must happen in less than five, four, or even three seconds. In that case, I might as well be blinking. So goes the title of the book I chose for this report: Blink. Written by New York Times-bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, Blink is a detailed look and perspective of the operations of the unconscious mind—and how we ought to be more conscious about our unconscious activities. Through scientific testing, historical allusions, interviews and conversations with key figures, and a little bit of common sense, Malcolm Gladwell opens up the other rarely-explored hemisphere of decision making—decisions that take less than a minute or even 30 seconds to make—which can positively or negatively impact our lives in more ways than we can see.
“The Statue That Didn’t Look Right”
As commonly seen throughout this book, Gladwell opens up Blink with an introductory anecdote that underscores how a few snap judgments can turn conventional wisdom on its head. In 1983, a kouros—one of many Greek sculptures of a nude male youth standing erect, hands at his sides, left foot forward—was offered to the Getty Museum in California for 10 million dollars. And this wasn’t just any old kouros; at least not the usual cracked or chipped or headless statues we’re used to seeing in museums. This was an almost perfectly preserved, lifelike Greek interpretation of human physique, certainly worthy of having the $10 million tag applied to it. To the museum’s credit, instead of jumping on the statue for that price, they had it tested and evaluated. In 1984, after and fourteen months of observation and analysis of the statue and associated records, the Getty decided that this was a real antique, a rare masterpiece, and agreed to buy the statue. The kouros was first displayed to the public two years later. Journal and newspaper articles were already being written to commemorate the occasion, especially in the New York Times.
It took the keen, but brief, observations of a few members of the art history circle to defeat the Getty’s case for the kouros authenticity; and in fact, this started long before the museum actually bought the statue in 1984. First, in 1983 there was Federico Zeri, ironically a member of the museum’s board of trustees, who with a quick glance realized that the fingernails of the statue seemed out of place. Then in 1984 came Evelyn Harrison, a well-known expert in Greek sculpture, who was “sorry to hear” that the statue would be acquired by the Getty in a matter of weeks (Gladwell, 2005, p. 5). After the kouros acquisition, Thomas Hoving, former director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted that the statue looked “fresh” in his eyes (Gladwell, 2005, p. 5). According to him, kouroi that are supposed to be as old as this one (which was dated to the sixth century B.C.) usually don’t come in one whole piece as this one did, and certainly not as bright and smooth as the Getty’s kouros. And with one glance, years of archaeological experience had manifested itself in Hoving’s simple assessment.
Had the above observers been ordinary viewers, the Getty wouldn’t have cause for alarm. But as mentioned before, these were well-respected members of the art community that were inferring that the kouros was, well, not exactly authentic. According to Gladwell, “the Getty was getting worried” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 6); so they took the statue back to its supposed country of origin, Greece. At the arranged symposium of Greek sculpture experts there, the outcry over the kouros appearance grew even louder. According to Angelos Delivorrias, one of the Greek experts, as quoted by the author, “he felt a wave of ‘intuitive repulsion’” when gazing at the statue (Gladwell, 2005, p. 6), as did many of his counterparts; and this was the first time many of these experts had laid eyes on the kouros! Suddenly, the luminous kouros had sparked a wave of contention between art experts, and in particular between the museum that held the statue and the experts that doubted its appearance and age. As the years progressed, the experts snap judgments proved to be well-founded. Some of the letters traced to the original owner of the statue were fakes; the kouros actually was a conglomerate of several different art styles; and the surface of the kouros, it turned out, was “aged” to make it look like it was thousands of years older than it actually was (Gladwell, 2005, p. 8). Therefore, the kouros might actually be a forgery; and to this day, the Getty kouros has been listed as “530 B.C. or modern forgery.”
How did Harrison, Hoving, and the others in the previous paragraphs understand in a few moments what it took the Getty years to realize—that the kouros didn’t look authentic? According to the author, they didn’t know how they knew; they just knew. And that is what Blink aims to explain—the decisions and observations we make but can’t exactly explain. Gladwell also uses several other examples in the introductory section, including a University of Iowa experiment on a card game and short, silent videotapes of a teacher—to further drive home the point that unconscious activity continually happens in our brain. Then finally, Gladwell outlines the three reasons that this book exists: to remind us that snap decisions can be just as beneficial as deliberate decisions; to warn us to be mindful of when our rapid cognition can go right or wrong; and to assure us that snap judgments can indeed be educated and controlled. Each of the first three chapters of the book expounds on each of these lessons; and the next three chapters focus on people that deal with the issue of rapid cognition in their daily lives.
“The Theory of Thin Slices”
The first chapter is named “The Theory of Thin Slices.” Can you figure out what the chapter talks about just by looking at the title? You just thin-sliced—you could figure out a situation using very few literal, visual, or auditory cues or clues. Gladwell repeatedly and excellently illustrates this phenomenon with several accounts and stories throughout the chapter. Picture a scientist who, from a few seconds of video of a married couple’s conversation, can accurately predict how many years that couple will stay married. Try listening to Morse code during World War II and picking up on the enemy’s moves. Imagine that someone whom you never met could tell the story of your life just by looking around at your dorm room. See if you can listen to doctors conversations with their patients and guess which doctors may be sued for malpractice within the next five years. All these situations actually happened, and all are prime examples of people using little clues to solve bigger puzzles.
The chapter is divided into four sections, each describing in detail what makes thin-slicing such a sought-after yet highly self-inhibited ability of the human psyche. For example, “The Love Lab” details Dr. John Gottman’s laboratory video analysis of brief interactions and conversations between couples, looking at their facial contractions, body movements, finger twitches, heartbeats, half-smiles, and other things we wouldn’t bother looking at if we saw a happy, healthy couple today. Dr. Gottman arranged the emotions displayed in each millisecond of each video on a numerical scale, and using these numbers could accurately predict which couples would remain married or divorced within the next fifteen years. I honestly couldn’t tell you what I myself will be doing in the next two hours, though I’d have some ideas. Dr. Gottman could easily read two people he never met, even if he met them in a restaurant, and easily decipher who would be happy or discontent then and even now. His work on analyzing couples in his “love lab” underscores the power of thin-slicing people.
Another section that caught my attention was “The Secrets of the Bedroom.” In it, Dr. Samuel Gosling, a psychologist, has designed a brilliant three-part questionnaire/survey regarding eighty college students. First, each of those students answered five-question “inventories” about themselves: on extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to new experiences. Then, close friends of these students filled out these inventories. Last, but not least, and certainly the most important, total strangers—people whom these students never knew—were asked to fill out these inventories while touring the students dorm rooms for twenty minutes! What were the results of this test? Well, while the students friends were more accurate in assessing the students extraversion and agreeableness (because they have closer personal relationships with these students), the strangers were more accurate in measuring the students conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness (Gladwell, 2005, p. 36). Does that sound weird? According to Gladwell, it shouldn’t. Those three latter characteristics are the kinds of things that employers might want to know about you; after all, not everyone in this world, especially not those in the workforce, knows you that well. But what clues did the strangers use to thin-slice these students? They used “identity claims,” or “deliberate expressions” by the students about their accomplishments and abilities (including diplomas or degrees); “behavioral residue,” inadvertent clues to our behavior (clothes lying on the ground); and “regulators” for our thoughts and feelings (including scented candles or decorative pillows). It amazes me how people can tell so much about you from the objects and actions you otherwise pay little attention to on a daily basis. Using such clues, even complete strangers we don’t know can thin-slice use from an emotional distance.
“The Locked Door”
Samples and videos and interviews have all proven that thin-slicing—making out the big picture from little clues—is real and powerful. But we also realize that thin-slicing is an ability that few people, or at least not very many people, can master. In fact, many people may not even realize the thin-slicing that gets them through their daily routines or at least solves their problems. Even fewer people can easily explain what makes them “think without thinking.” Imagine that the process of thin slicing is a process by a supercomputer lodged in our brains. If we wanted to see just how this computer worked, we couldn’t; for the computer sits behind a locked door. Interestingly, the second chapter of this book talks about “The Locked Door.” This is representative of the frustration that thin-slicers experience while trying to explain how they know what they know. Our thin-slicing abilities are so unconscious that we have a hard time explaining why we deduce when we do, or even how we react that way in any given situation. Take Vic Braden, the world-famous tennis coach, for instance. He’s spent so many years coaching fine tennis athletes, especially on their serves; so it should be no surprise that he can tell when a player would double fault (hit the ball into the net or out of play, etc.). Or is it unsurprising? According to Gladwell, Braden was actually frustrated (Gladwell, 2005, p. 49) as to how he knew what would be a good serve and what wouldn’t. But Braden’s is one of many minds whose owner can’t exactly explain how his mind tells him what he knows. Look at the example of the Getty’s kouros. Somehow, both Harrison and Zeri knew that the statue just didn’t look right; but they couldn’t tell the activities that fueled their snap decisions.
Reading deeper into the chapter, one may realize that the thin-slicing going on in our heads cab adversely or dramatically affect decisions we may not even give much more thought to. Dr. John Bargh’s scrambled-sentence experiments with words on pages 52 and 53 show how unconsciously our minds arrange these words into sentences. Another Bargh experiment shows how scrambled-sentence tests with either “positive” or “negative” words could somehow influence students to act in accordance with the word’s connotations. One disturbing test I saw in this chapter involved the inclusion of race identification on standardized tests. Those who indicated that they were African Americans did not do as well as Dutch students did on Trivial Pursuit-style questions from a similar test; according to Gladwell, the race box “was sufficient to prime them with all the negative stereotypes associated with African Americans and academic achievement” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 56). Gladwell says that the outcomes of such experiments indicate that the way we think and act, “and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 58), are very much influenced by outside forces and not just gut feelings.
The most telling experiment of them all is described in the middle of the book. Norman Maier conducted an experiment on tying together two ropes hanging on opposite ends of a room. Three solutions manifested themselves to the subjects; but the fourth one—swinging the ropes together before tying them—didn’t make sense until Maier gently swung one (Gladwell, 2005, p. 69). Suddenly, their unconscious revealed the solution to the subjects. Were they stupid? Not at all; according to Gladwell, they were actually functioning with two minds instead of one. While their conscious minds were stuck trying to figure out that mysterious fourth solution, their unconscious minds were sorting out every possible answer until they found it; and “it guided them—silently and surely—to the solution” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 71). So, thus the best explanation to be offered for operating behind “a locked door”: we basically have two minds. With the first mind we basically see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. But our second mind is the one behind the locked door—the one whose activities we are not aware of but which affects the power of all of our senses.
“The Warren Harding Error”
Sometimes, we rely too much on our senses and make erroneous snap judgments. In 1899, political boss Harry Daugherty first discovered Warren Harding, who would later win election to the Ohio state senate. Daugherty saw that Harding was a particularly handsome man; but as the writer explains, Harding was not “particularly intelligent” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 73). He enjoyed partying, playing poker, and womanizing instead of giving speeches, voting on policy, campaigning, meeting with world leaders, and all the other good stuff a politician is supposed to do. He was even pushed along in the political sphere by his wife and by Daugherty; almost to the point where he didn’t even have a backbone. But Harding was handsome. He looked like a U.S. Senator (he was elected in 1914) and a U.S. President (he was elected in 1920). His eyes, his shoulders, his face, his build—everything about him suggested he would make a great leader. But Harding died in 1923, two years into his presidency and before corruption in his Cabinet became exposed to the nation. To this day, he is regarded as one of the worst Presidents to have taken office. No wonder the third chapter’s title makes reference to “The Warren Harding Error.” Here, Gladwell warns us to be guarded against taking matters at face value; sometimes, it’s better to do a little research than go on little knowledge.
Gladwell demonstrates how aware we must be of this by using, among other examples, the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which tests our “implicit associations” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 77) of words with certain characteristics or labels. For example, John, Derek, and Bob can be seen as “male” names; Peggy, Joan, Amy, and Holly are all “female” names; that’s not too hard to figure out. However, going deeper into this test, the author realized (and so might the reader) that we have a harder time associating career-related terms (employment, office, merchant) with females; the same goes for family terminology (babies, domestic, kitchen) with males. That is the conventional rapid cognition that goes on in our minds, and yet we are almost completely unaware of it, if at all. The IAT has some specialized editions, including the famous Race IAT. During this test, it becomes evident that words with more negative connotations are more commonly, or more easily, associated with African Americans or blacks than with European Americans or whites (Gladwell, 2005, pp. 82-84). Does that mean that to do so is racist? Not at all; that is another telling example of the unconscious activity of the unconscious part of our minds. That underscores the dark side of thin-slicing; without a little education beforehand, a gut feeling can sometimes prove to be false.
Thomas Hoving, John Gottman, and Vic Braden, in the previous examples, didn’t just wake up one day and realize the subtleties belying a forgery, a couple’s future, or a double-fault. They are well-respected figures in all their respective fields; not that their education was the reason they could still thin-slice—after all, thin-slicing is a more unconscious activity. But at least they knew better than to always trust their snap judgments. They pondered why they thought the way they did, researched a little bit, and could instantly tell what they saw. Even Bob Golomb, the car dealership sales director interviewed by Gladwell in this chapter, knew simple prejudgments about customers—taking them at face value—wouldn’t get him anywhere in selling cars. Golomb was determined to treat all customers the same, as best as he could, by engaging, listening, and assuming “everyone who walks in the door has the exact same chance of buying a car” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 91). And he excels at his business, and I really admire that. I think more people should imitate Golomb by choosing not to discriminate (or elevate) based on mere appearances but to instead get to know people a little better and find out what makes them tick.
“Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory”
The next three chapters of the book detail the accomplishments or grave errors of three people who were either key proponents or victims of the art of thin-slicing. Paul Van Riper, in chapter four, is a former Vietnam commander and the big winner of the Pentagon war game “Millennium Challenge” in 2002. What was the big thing about “Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory”? Well, where the “Blue Team”–the “American” army in the game—relied on intellect, technology, maps, and such to defeat the enemy, the “Red Team”–the anti-American enemy of the Blue Team—had no such luxuries. Yet in the first round of this game, it was the Red Team, with Van Riper as the commander, which routed the Blue Team’s forces.
According to Van Riper, “the fog of war,” which refers to the complexities surrounding the camps, battlefields, decisions, attacks, retreats, and of course the strategies made in a normal battle, could never be solved easily. The Blue Team’s use of technology, numbers (of soldiers, of weapons, etc.) and intelligence only thickened this figurative fog. As the “antithesis” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 106) of what the Blue Team stood for—technological and innovative superiority—Van Riper, known by his colleagues as an unassuming, gruff leader, learned in his first years in the military to trust the mind, perhaps the best and most mysterious computer of them all, to guide him and his army on the plains and in the jungles of Vietnam. Both in Vietnam and in the Millennium Challenge, Van Riper’s troops thrived on limited communication, coded messages, brief meetings before the battle began (Gladwell, 2005, p. 143), to ensure that the army could operate and advance by rapid cognition, or “thinking on one’s feet.” In the Millennium Challenge, the Blue Team relied too much on the wealth of information they had, stressing intelligence over urgency (for war requires much quick action) and thus having to pay the price.
Gladwell demonstrates here that sometimes it’s good to trust our instincts and to use few clues to make sense of any situation. In one of my favorite sections of the book, Gladwell details how improvisation comedy, better known as “improv,” succeeds in being funny because of actors who can make split-second decisions without a scrip or any other knowledge of the plot. Basketball is in a way like improv; split-second decisions have to be made regarding passing, shooting, defense, all of it. But both improv and basketball, as I read, require practice. Anyone who is in an improv group or a basketball team needs to make sure he or she understands the principles, procedures, and rules of performing in either situation; otherwise, at least one person involved in doing either won’t be sure what to do. As the author says, “spontaneity isn’t random” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 114). Snap decisions are made and executed well by people who know and understand the situation they’re in, without needing as many clues to tell them what to do. That was Paul Van Riper’s winning strategy.
The final two chapters of the book before the epilogue deal with two people who were or are exposed to the dark side of first impressions and split-second decisions. Take Kenna, an American music artist whom you might know by his single and music video “Freetime,” among others. According to several music executives, Kenna is very vocally gifted. According to these executives, managers, and concert-goers, his songs were so appealing that he was selling out clubs and being proclaimed by one band’s manager as the musician who would “change the world” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 152). But Kenna’s music had yet to reach the airwaves, and mostly because of ratings of his music by the general public on sophisticated Web sites. Much of his music was rated around 1 or so (which is not very good) on a scale of 0 to 4. So Kenna’s music was appreciated by some, but disliked by more; herein lay “Kenna’s Dilemma.” His music was already liked by some and had to be more appreciated to receive radio play; but his music was routinely rated low by the public.
Here also is another sobering truth about snap judgments and thin-slicing: it’s almost impossible to guess exactly what any given population wants. Surveys, questionnaires, taste tests, road tests, demos, and other such samplings and exams can be quite misleading; but that’s because love (or hate) at first sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell can be misleading as well. Take the current success of Coca-Cola for instance. When Coca-Cola’s sales were struggling against Pepsi’s in the early 1980’s, the former company decided to make a newer formula in order to exceed the sales of the latter. Their “new” Coke formula performed very well in taste tests, but horribly once the drink hit the store shelves. According to Gladwell, the taste tests which were supposed to be promoting New Coke didn’t amount to much in the real world; for “no one ever drinks Coca-Cola blind” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 166). Upon the failure of the “New Coke,” the company decided to bring back the “classic” Coke, which has remained a popular drink ever since. The failed “New Coke” experiment also serves as a reminder that it is quite difficult to understand the public’s needs from taste tests or any other kinds of tests.
Other great examples included in this chapter included the Aeron office chair, an innovative work of art that several facility managers didn’t like because of the design. Today, the Aeron is one of the more popular and aesthetically commendable of office chairs on the market. Both All in the Family and the Mary Tyler Moore Show, now all-time classic television sitcoms, received initially bad ratings by reviewers because they promoted radically different from cultural (and television) in the late 1960s. Both are examples of why negative (or positive) ratings during testing are not always an effective gauge for the reception of a product when it is released into the market. And thus the problem from which Kenna suffered: poor ratings by certain surveys and ratings services prevented radios from airing his music which other people found enjoyable. It is very difficult to tell what the public really thinks; it is very difficult, if not impossible, to thin-slice the way other people thin-slice. This is essentially the challenge almost every company (even music labels) has releasing new products to the general market.
“Seven Seconds in the Bronx”
The final chapter involves a tragedy with which the reader might be familiar. On the night of February 4, 1999, Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot and killed by four police officers on the streets of the Bronx. What happened in those “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” is a powerful example of people’s having to come to grips with the nature and consequences of their split-second decision making, especially in life-or-death situations.
Briefly, much of this chapter actually deals with police and guns and confrontations, which made me a little uncomfortable. This is quite fitting though because police, especially in areas with high crime rates, are under much stress and often may not be clear-headed enough to make correct decisions; and their guns may be seen as the quickest way to solve the problems they face. It is the same stress that may cause police to react at the wrong time. For example, during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the Secret Service officials reacted only during and after the bullets were fired; and John Hinckley, the would-be assassin, was standing a few feet away from the President (Gladwell, 2005, p. 231). The Secret Service’s actions to defend the President, while heroic, were too little and too late.
Another interesting facet of this chapter is the art of face-reading, which is a subject explored by many scientists. The expressions on faces can tell a great deal about what people are thinking; their eyes, their eyebrows, the lines on their faces, their smiles or frowns, and so much more clues to people’s immediate feelings can be seen on their faces. One interesting part of this chapter made me realize why parents struggle with raising autistic kids: autism patients have trouble recognizing faces. They see objects. They don’t have as much empathy as non-autistic people would have. They can’t make conclusions about people’s feelings because their condition doesn’t allow them to. Police officers, in situations of life or death, may themselves be quite autistic, or “mind-blind” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 221), when confronting suspicious characters. They don’t care to read faces, only watch for guns. Thus, autistic people can’t thin-slice faces as well as they normally should.
Such were the errors committed by the four policemen in the heat of the moment on that night in 1999: they made several mind- and face-reading errors that eventually cost an innocent man his life. In the following months, many protesters called this a case of racism; some supporters of the policemen called self-defense; but according to Gladwell, neither was an adequate explanation for the situation’s turnout. The story of Amadou Diallo, as well as the whole premise of this chapter, serves as a harrowing reminder that preconceptions and snap judgments aren’t always correct and can be, and ought to be, controlled.
“Listening with Your Eyes”
The conclusion and the afterword of Blink include several interesting anecdotes that sum up what Gladwell has proven in his book-long thesis. The anecdote featuring trombonist Abbie Conant is another favorite of mine. Conant, who eventually the first woman to play solo trombone in the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, was chosen as the best player out of all applicants after playing trombone behind a screen in 1980. But when the judges saw that she was a woman, prejudices about gender and music manifested themselves in a years-long controversy that involved her position in the orchestra and her salary, all because she was not a man. But she prevailed, on every charge and through every evaluation, because, when during that screen test, a judge cried out, “That’s who we want!” (Gladwell, 2005, p. 246), Conant’s career was effectively “saved by the screen.”
It was that moment of objectivity that eventually defeated all the preconceptions and misconceptions to which Conant was subjected, all because she was a woman. It had taken years for the Orchestra to finally accept her as a woman that could play the trombone well. The essence of this story is that snap judgments aren’t always correct, but they can be educated and controlled, whether independent or considerate of outside teachings and memories. In the case of Conant, it’s better to actually listen with your ears than with your eyes, which can be quite judgmental, and let our minds do the talking from there.
The afterword of the book basically rounds up the three lessons taught by Gladwell: that snap decisions can have as much of an effect on daily life as can conscious decisions; that rapid cognition isn’t always a reliable gauge of reality or popularity; and that we must be aware of the snap decisions we are apt to make, even in stressful situations. I realize that snap judgments about people, places, and things have even farther-reaching consequences than even our conscious minds could even imagine; police officers, war veterans, musicians, and doctors, among others, are very likely to agree.
In my opinion, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is overall a sharp-witted, well-written exposition of the psychic activity of which the thinker may be unaware, and which can hurt or help any situation depending on what the thinker does with it.
· Why I think this author has definitely written a work of genius:
o Malcolm Gladwell is definitely the first person that has written a book on not only the unconscious part of our minds, but also how they affect almost everything we do and how we ought to be more conscious of our unconscious. He has arranged all the materials in the book in a very logical order and keeps circling back to the point he drives across every time. In addition to the subject matter of the book, Gladwell urges the reader to understand what drives decision making in any and every situation and to balance deliberate thinking and snap judgment. Gladwell did not write Blink just to humor or scare the reader. He encourages us to realize the power of “thinking without thinking” in our daily lives.
· If I were the author of the book, I would have done these three things differently:
1. Personally, I’m not sure I’d have done any better than what the author has already done. However, as a suggestion, I’d probably see how far back thin-slicing goes in regard to maturity. Can children thin-slice situations at a certain age?
2. Also, I’d expound a little more on the relationship between snap judgments and sports. Basketball, hockey, tennis, baseball, and football all serve as valid representations of the extremities of conscious and unconscious thinking because of the varying degrees of actions taking in each one.
3. Finally, I’d also make a stronger connection between unconscious thinking and business, for there are much profit and costs hinging on the decisions made in the workplace on any given day.
· Reading this book made me think differently about the topic in these ways:
1. Snap decisions can mean the difference between life and death for any person.
2. We may not realize how much some people can tell about us just by looking even at our dorm rooms. If you want to be seen as an organized person, make your bed, keep your dirty laundry in a basket, and arrange your books.
3. We have two minds: one we use to deliberate, and the other we don’t even know we use. Yet both are equally important and particularly constructive or destructive.
· I’ll apply what I’ve learned in this book in my career by:
1. Getting to know people and not relying on preconceptions. There is a time to go with instinct and a time to question instinct.
2. Paying more attention to the decisions I make under pressure. Who knows what effect such a decision will have?
3. Not acting like a know-it-all. Even in the professional world, it’s better to have an information shortage and learn by doing than to suffer from information overload and not have a clue of what to do with all this information. Sometimes, the less I know, the more time I have to act.
· Here is a sampling of what others have said about the book and its author:
The reaction to Gladwell’s work, like the public’s reception of Kenna’s music or the Aeron chair at first, was quite mixed; here are some samples of the book’s criticism. Among the positive reviews, Jennifer Reese of Entertainment Weekly (EW.com) praises Gladwell for collecting “scores of arresting anecdotes” to help write a “sinuous, fascinating narrative” of the mystery of the unconscious (Reese, 2005, para. 2). Catherine Bennett of The Guardian, in reviewing to the vast array of ideas and anecdotes present in the book, was far less effusive in her opinion; to her, although Blink “features some likely-looking jargon and various marketing anecdotes,” the book was actually “a muddle” of contradictory material (Bennett , 2005, para. 6) in every chapter written. Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote a slightly less scathing review of Blink; although she notices that the book “is undercut by naggingly bad grammar,” perhaps noting the indeed grammatically incorrect phrases “the ability to know our own mind” and “how their mind works,” among others (Maslin, 2005, para. 6). Finally, Kirkus Reviews issued a favorable but not-too-kind opinion on the books content:
“All these stories are nicely written and most inform and entertain at the same time, but they don’t add up to anything terribly profound, despite the author’s sometimes Skywalker-ish enthusiasm.” (2004, p. 948)
It is not surprising to me that there are such varying reviews on the content and purpose of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Indeed, that again underscores the insatiability of the public’s expectations of such a book and the difficulty in acquiescing to the public’s opinion. However each writer, reader, or reviewer is entitled to his or her own opinion, I believe that the whole point of Blink—that the activities of our unconscious minds render as much value in our daily lives as our conscious minds do—still stands.
Review of the book Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by M. Gladwell (2004, October 1). Kirkus Reviews, p. 948. Retrieved
Bennett, C. (2005, February 19). On second thoughts [Review of the book Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by M. Gladwell]. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/feb/19/scienceandnature.highereducation
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: the power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.
Maslin, J. (2005, January 6). Haste isn’t all waste [Review of the book Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by M. Gladwell]. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/06/books/06masl.htm
Reese, J. (2005, January 11). [Review of the book Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by M. Gladwell]. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1015116,00.html
Contact Info: To contact the author of this “Summary and Review of Blink,” please email David.firstname.lastname@example.org.
David C. Wyld (email@example.com) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/.
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