Friday, August 12, 2005
Book Review: 'Blink'
Making decisions "without thinking" is usually frowned on according to conventional wisdom. But Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking challenges that wisdom. Drawing on contemporary neuroscience and psychology, Gladwell attempts to show that some of the great decision makers are not those who spend hours processing lots of information and deliberating before making a choice. The author uses real life stories of decisions that have been made "in the blink of an eye" which have turned out to be right - even against experts who have come to conclusions based on "incontrovertible" evidence. Frequently, experts in a field make decisions and, later, when interviewed, cannot explain how they came to make such good judgments. Of course, he also provides examples of decisions that have been made "in a blink" which have turned out to be wrong. What is the difference? According to Gladwell, it is the skill of "thin-slicing" - the ability to filter the essential factors that matter from all the rest. But, as others have pointed out (see links below), thin-slicing, or rapid cognition, may really only be the thinking of an expert who has made rational, logical thinking such a habit that it happens very fast. In other words, experience counts - another piece of ancient wisdom. Richard Posner has written an excellent critique of Blink that is well worth reading. Blink is written in a journalistic style and suffers from the superficiality which often accompanies it. Sometimes, one wonders whether Gladwell has done any thin-slicing when telling his stories. However, as an entry point to the idea of rapid cognition, it is thought-provoking. Just don't rely on it for the final word on the topic. Related Links