Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
By Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books April 2007
Borrowed from a friend
Malcolm Gladwell opens the book with the story of a statue acquired by the J Paul Getty Museum in the 1980s. The statue, a kouros or nude male, was verified as authentic by a vast amount of data. But when experts looked at the piece, they could immediately tell that it was a fake. They couldn't say why exactly, but they were sure. Blink is about the two ways that we make decisions. In the first, we gather up as much information as possible in an attempt to make the best choice. When we use the second method, we make snap judgments about people, products, and even books.
Gladwell writes about our adaptive unconscious, "You may have done the same thing, whether you realized it or not, when you first picked up this book. How long did you hold it in your hands? Two seconds? And yet in that short space of time, the design of the cover, whatever associations you may have had with my name, and the first few sentences about the kouros all generated an impression - a flurry of thoughts and images and preconceptions - that has fundamentally shaped the way you have read this introduction so far. Aren't you curious about what happened in those two seconds?"
Mr. Gladwell previously worked as a science reporter at a newspaper and it's evident in the way that he writes. He has a thorough understanding of scientific concepts, but he presents them in ways that makes the non-scientific reader feel quite intelligent. The examples he uses throughout this book are extremely varied. He writes about couples counseling, war games, improv groups, sports, and fighting fires. Each of these people make decisions based on less or incomplete information and often have difficulty explaining why they did what they did. He excels at bringing these people and circumstances to vivid life and making you feel like these things are important to your life too.
As I read, I really appreciated that Gladwell recognized that our subconscious can make bad decisions as well as good ones. At its crux, it comes down to our experience and training as well as the situation at hand. There are times when our gut reactions serve us well, but there are other moments when it is better for us to make the well-informed decision. The important part is learning which is which.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is a fascinating look into the way our minds work. Malcolm Gladwell is a very accessible writer who will make you re-evaluate the way our culture views choice and decisions. It's a great science read even for those of us who don't feel very confident in our scientific knowledge.