Blink (Gladwell)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Malcolm Gladwell, 2005
Little, Brown & Co.
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780316010665

How do we make decisions—good and bad—and why are some people so much better at it than others? That's the question Malcolm Gladwell asks and answers in the follow-up to his huge bestseller, The Tipping Point. Utilizing case studies as diverse as speed dating, pop music, and the shooting of Amadou Diallo, Gladwell reveals that what we think of as decisions made in the blink of an eye are much more complicated than assumed.

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology, he shows how the difference between good decision-making and bad has nothing to do with how much information we can process quickly, but on the few particular details on which we focus. Leaping boldly from example to example, displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Gladwell reveals how we can become better decision makers—in our homes, our offices, and in everyday life. The result is a book that is surprising and transforming. Never again will you think about thinking the same way. (From the publisher.)

Gladwell is also the author of The Tipping Point, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw.

Author Bio 
Birth—September 3, 1963
Where—Fareham, Hampshire, England, U.K.
• Raised—Elmira, Ontario, Canada
Education—B.A., University of Toronto
Currently—New York, New York, USA

Malcolm T. Gladwell is an English-Canadian journalist, bestselling author, and speaker. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013). The first four books were on the New York Times Best Seller list.

Gladwell's books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology. Gladwell was appointed to the Order of Canada 1n 2011.

Early life
Gladwell was born in Fareham, Hampshire, England. His mother is Joyce (Nation) Gladwell, a Jamaican-born psychotherapist. His father, Graham Gladwell, is a British mathematics professor. Gladwell has said that his mother is his role model as a writer. When he was six, his family moved to Elmira, Ontario, Canada.

Gladwell's father noted that Malcolm was an unusually single-minded and ambitious boy. When Malcolm was 11, his father allowed him to wander around the offices at his university, which stoked the boy's interest in reading and libraries. During his high school years, Gladwell was an outstanding middle-distance runner and won the 1,500 meter title at the 1978 Ontario High School 14-year-old championships in Kingston, Ontario. In the spring of 1982, Gladwell interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. He graduated with a degree in history from the University of Toronto's Trinity College in 1984.

Gladwell's grades were not good enough for graduate school (as Gladwell puts it, "college was not an... intellectually fruitful time for me"), so he decided to go into advertising. After being rejected by every advertising agency he applied to, he accepted a journalism position at The American Spectator and moved to Indiana. He subsequently wrote for Insight on the News, a conservative magazine owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

In 1987, Gladwell began covering business and science for the Washington Post, where he worked until 1996. In a personal elucidation of the 10,000 hour rule he popularized in Outliers, Gladwell notes, "I was a basket case at the beginning, and I felt like an expert at the end. It took 10 years—exactly that long."

When Gladwell started at The New Yorker in 1996 he wanted to "mine current academic research for insights, theories, direction, or inspiration." His first assignment was to write a piece about fashion. Instead of writing about high-class fashion, Gladwell opted to write a piece about a man who manufactured T-shirts, saying was much more interesting to write a piece about someone who made a T-shirt for $8 than it was to write about a dress that costs $100,000. I mean, you or I could make a dress for $100,000, but to make a T-shirt for $8 – that's much tougher.

Gladwell gained popularity with two New Yorker articles, both written in 1996: "The Tipping Point" and "The Coolhunt." These two pieces would become the basis for Gladwell's first book, The Tipping Point, for which he received a $1 million advance. He continues to write for The New Yorker and also serves as a contributing editor for Grantland, a sports journalism website founded by ESPN's Bill Simmons.

When asked for the process behind his writing, Gladwell has said...

I have two parallel things I'm interested in. One is I'm interested in collecting interesting stories, and the other is I'm interested in collecting interesting research. What I'm looking for is cases where they overlap.

The title for his first book, The Tipping Point (2000), came from the phrase "tipping point"—the moment in an disease epidemic when the virus reaches critical mass and begins to spread at a much higher rate.

Gladwell published Blink (2005), a book explaining how the human subconscious interprets events or cues and how past experiences can lead people to make informed decisions very rapidly.

Gladwell's third book, Outliers (2008) examines the way a person's environment, in conjunction with personal drive and motivation, affects his or her possibility and opportunity for success.

What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009) bundles together Gladwell's favorite articles from The New Yorker since he joined the magazine as a staff writer in 1996. The stories share a common idea, namely, the world as seen through the eyes of others, even if that other happens to be a dog.

David and Goliath (2013) explores the struggle of underdogs versus favorites. The book is partially inspired by a 2009 article Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker, "How David Beats Goliath."

The Tipping Point and Blink became international bestsellers, each selling over two million copies in the US.

David Leonhardt wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "In the vast world of nonfiction writing, Malcolm Gladwell is as close to a singular talent as exists today" and that Outliers "leaves you mulling over its inventive theories for days afterward." Ian Sample of The Guardian (UK) also wrote of Outliers that when brought together, "the pieces form a dazzling record of Gladwell's art. There is depth to his research and clarity in his arguments, but it is the breadth of subjects he applies himself to that is truly impressive."

Criticism of Gladwell tends to focus on the fact that he is a journalist and not a scientist, and as a result his work is prone to oversimplification. The New Republic called the final chapter of Outliers, "impervious to all forms of critical thinking" and said that Gladwell believes "a perfect anecdote proves a fatuous rule."

Gladwell has also been criticized for his emphasis on anecdotal evidence over research to support his conclusions. Steven Pinker, even while praising Gladwell's attractive writing style and content, sums up Gladwell as "a minor genius who unwittingly demonstrates the hazards of statistical reasoning." Pinker accuses him of using "cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies" in Outliers.

Despite these criticisms Gladwell commands hefty speaking fees: $80,000 for one speech, according to a 2008 New York magazine article although some speeches he makes for free. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/02/2013.)

Book Reviews 
An interesting read, packed with thought-provoking information and anecdotes. At times it seems contradictory and as if Gladwell is using a bit of filler to push the covers farther apart. But that's okay because it's fun-going and, for book clubs, offers opportunities for good discussion...especially the section on diagnosing relatioships.
A LitLovers LitPick (Jul. '08)

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell, a former science and business reporter at the Washington Post who now writes for The New Yorker, offers his account of this sort of seemingly instantaneous judgment. Readers acquainted with Gladwell's articles and his 2000 bestseller The Tipping Point will have high anticipations for this volume; those expectations will be met. The book features the fascinating case studies, skilled interweavings of psychological experiments and explanations and unexpected connections among disparate phenomenon that are Gladwell's impressive trademark.
Howard Gardner - Washington Post

Best-selling author Gladwell has a dazzling ability to find commonality in disparate fields of study. As he displays again in this entertaining and illuminating look at how we make snap judgments-about people's intentions, the authenticity of a work of art, even military strategy-he can parse for general readers the intricacies of fascinating but little-known fields like professional food tasting (why does Coke taste different from Pepsi?). Gladwell's conclusion, after studying how people make instant decisions in a wide range of fields from psychology to police work, is that we can make better instant judgments by training our mind and senses to focus on the most relevant facts-and that less input (as long as it's the right input) is better than more. Perhaps the most stunning example he gives of this counterintuitive truth is the most expensive war game ever conducted by the Pentagon, in which a wily marine officer, playing "a rogue military commander" in the Persian Gulf and unencumbered by hierarchy, bureaucracy and too much technology, humiliated American forces whose chiefs were bogged down in matrixes, systems for decision making and information overload. But if one sets aside Gladwell's dazzle, some questions and apparent inconsistencies emerge. If doctors are given an algorithm, or formula, in which only four facts are needed to determine if a patient is having a heart attack, is that really educating the doctor's decision-making ability-or is it taking the decision out of the doctor's hands altogether and handing it over to the algorithm? Still, each case study is satisfying, and Gladwell imparts his own evident pleasure in delving into a wide range of fields and seeking an underlying truth.
Publishers Weekly

Journalist Gladwell (The Tipping Point) examines the process of snap decision making. Contrary to the model of a rational process involving extensive information gathering and rational analysis, most decisions are made instantaneously and unconsciously. This works well for us much of the time because we learn to "thin-slice"-that is, to ignore extraneous input and concentrate on one or two cues. Sometimes, we don't even consciously know what these cues are, as in Gladwell's anecdote about a tennis coach who can predict when a player is going to make a rare sort of error but doesn't know how he knows. The book also explores how this process can go horribly wrong, as in the Amadou Diallo shooting. Gladwell gets the science facts right and has the journalistic skills to make them utterly engrossing. A big promo campaign is planned; for once a best seller will be more than worthy. Essential for all libraries.
Library Journal

Gladwell...brilliantly illuminates an aspect of our mental lives that we utterly rely on yet rarely analyze, namely our ability to make snap decisions or quick judgments.... But... [u]nconscious knowledge is not the proverbial light bulb, he observes, but rather a flickering candle. Gladwell's ground-breaking explication of a key aspect of human nature is enlightening, provocative, and great fun to read.
Donna Seaman - Booklist

We need to place more trust in our "thin-slicer"—our capacity to make instant judgments-but we also need to sharpen its edge more keenly with experience and education. Gladwell's second entry into the aren't-our-brains-amazing genre (The Tipping Point, 2000) has an Obi-Wan Kenobi flavor, a "trust-your-feelings-Luke" antirationalism that attempts, in some ways, to deconstruct the Force. The author's great strength lies in his stories, and here he crafts a number of engaging ones: an account of art experts fooled by a fake; a summary of how a psychologist, looking at an hourlong video of a married couple conversing, can predict with 95% accuracy if they will divorce; an unnerving narrative about the Millennium Challenge, a war game in which a maverick commander deals a devastating blow to the bean-counting rule-followers on the team that was supposed to win. There are stories of a rock star fighting the odds, of cops shooting an innocent man who looked suspicious, of Coca-Cola making a big marketing mistake. We learn about the Aeron chair, All in the Family, Lee at Chancellorsville. (Unconventional people sometimes surprise.) We ponder the odd political rise of Warren G. Harding. We have a power lunch with some professional food-tasters-the author quips that it was like cello-shopping with Yo-Yo Ma. We chat with a car-selling superstar. Gladwell also rediscovers something Poe described in "The Haunted Palace": our eyes and our faces are windows to the soul. He tells us that the autistic are unable to decode or even notice the facial information of others. 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. Brisk, impressively done narratives that should sell very well indeed, particularly to Gladwell's already well-established fan base.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. Have you ever had a feeling that a couple's future is successful or doomed just by witnessing a brief exchange between them? What do you think you're picking up on?

2. Many couples seek marriage counseling from a therapist, a priest, rabbi etc. But do you think a couple about to get married should go and see John Gottman, the psychologist who can predict with a 95% accuracy whether a couple will be together in 15 years just by watching an hour of their interaction? If you were about to be married or could go back to before you were, would you want to see Gottman and find out his prediction?

3. The central argument of the chapter is that our unconscious is able to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience. This is called 'thin-slicing.'' What kinds of phenomena, if any, do not lend themselves to 'thin-slicing?'

4. Gottman decodes a couple's relationship and predicts divorce by identifying their patterns of behavior. Can we change our natural and unconscious patterns of behavior? Would awareness of these patterns with our partner be enough to avert an inevitable break-up?

5. Do you think you could hire someone by 'thin-slicing' the candidate during a brief interview? Or do you think this would only work for certain kinds of jobs or perhaps, only certain kinds of people?

6. The psychologist, Samuel Gosling, shows how 'thin-slicing' can be used to judge people's personality when he uses the dorm room observers. Visualize your bedroom right now. What does it say about you?

7. If scrolling through someone's iPod or scanning their bookshelf can tell us more about that individual, what other kinds of 'thin-slicing' exercises could reveal aspects of their personality?

8. Art historian Bernard Berenson or billionaire George Soros are examples of practiced 'thin-slicers' who have made highly pressured snap judgments based on nothing more than a curious ringing in the ears or a back spasm. What kind of physical, inexplicable cues have you or others you know of experienced which led to successful decision-making?

9. Priming refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes. An example of this occurs in Spain where authorities introduced classical music on the subway and after doing so, watched vandalism and littering drastically decrease. Can you think of situations when priming occurs?

10. Should we introduce priming in schools to encourage better behavior or more diligent work patterns? What about the service industry? Could employers prime their staff to be more polite to customers?

11. If an individual's behavior is being influenced unbeknownst to them, when can priming become manipulative? How is it different from the controversy a few years back when cinemas used subliminal advertising during previews to 'encourage' people to buy from the confectionary stand?

12. The Iyengar/Fisman study revealed that what the speed-daters say they want and what they were actually attracted to in the moment didn't match when compared. What does this say for on-line dating services? Can we really predict what kind of person we will 'hit it off' with? Is it better to let friends decide who is more suited for you as opposed to scanning profiles that correspond with your notion of what you think you are looking for?

13. Does your present spouse/ partner fit the preconceived idea of whom you imagined yourself ending up with? Have you dated someone that was the antithesis of what you thought you found attractive? Is there even a point of asking someone, "what's your type?

14. The Warren Harding error reveals the dark-side of 'thin-slicing'—when our instincts betray us and our rapid cognition goes awry. Looking at the example of that 1920 presidency, can we say that this type of error is happening today in political elections? Do you think this explains why there has never been a black or female president?

15. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. So like car salesmen who unconsciously discriminate against certain groups of potential customers or businesses that appear to favor tall men for CEOs, do you find it plausible that we are not accountable for these actions because they are a result of social influences as opposed to personal beliefs?

16. Do you buy the argument that we are completely oblivious to our unconsciously motivated behavior (like the disturbing IAT results that show 80% of test-takers have pro-white associations?) Is this just a convenient excuse to justify our biases?

17. Riper believed that strategy and complex theory were inappropriate and futile in the midst of battle, "where the uncertainties of war and the pressure of time made it impossible to compare options carefully and calmly." What other 'work' spaces discount rational analysis and demand immediate 'battlefield' decision-making?

18. Can one ever really prepare for decisive, rapid-fire scenarios? Is planning for the unpredictable worthwhile or a waste of time and energy?

19. If improvisational comedy is governed by rules and requires practice like any other sport, could anyone be a stand-up comic or performer? Or, will some people always naturally be better at thinking on their toes and more adept at unleashing spontaneity?

20. Riper says, "When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision-making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance." But is decision-making all about the circumstances or more about the personality of the decision-maker i.e. do circumstances have more impact on decision-making if you are a more cerebral, logical individual versus an indecisive, instinctual one?

21. In the cases of Kenna's music and the Aeron chair we see that first impressions can often lead us astray. What we initially judge as disapproval may just be a case of confusion or mistrust for something new and different. How can we distinguish a decision motivated by fear of the unknown from the ones that stem from genuine dislike towards something? Are we better off leaving it to the experts to tell us what we should like?

22. What if we have personal investment in the new product or person? Can we or how do we separate our emotional involvement from our intuitive judgment?

23. Do you believe our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room that we can't ever truly see inside? Can we ever know ourselves wholly and understand the motivation and reason behind our every move? If an individual claims to completely know how their mind works, are they incredibly self-aware or just delusional? And if we can't totally get behind that locked door and fully 'know' why we react the way we do, is psychiatry an over-priced and limited exercise?

24. The Diallo shooting is an example of a mind-reading failure. It reveals a grey area of human cognition; the middle ground between deliberate and accidental. Do you think the shooting was more deliberate or accidental?

25. Mind-reading failures lie at the root of countless arguments, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Often, people make excuses for a sarcastic or hurtful remark as "just joking." But if there is no clear-cut line between deliberate and accidental do you agree, "There is always truth in jest?" Do you think when we misread others and get irritated we are in fact only recognizing something in that person that we don't like about ourselves?

26. Eckman and Friesens' work of decoding facial expressions reveals that the information on our face is not just a signal of what's going on inside our mind but it is what is going on inside our mind. But what about politicians or celebrities and other figures constantly in the public eye? Do you believe they are always feeling their expressions or are they just camera-savvy posers who defy Eckman and Friesens' expression theory? How about extremely stoic individuals? Do they have diminished emotions in keeping with their limited expressions? Have you ever been 'two-faced' or watched someone else speak badly about another individual only to then turn around and greet them with a warm, gushy hello? Is that 'friendly' expression false or an attempt to make amends?

27. Autistic patients read their environment literally. They do not, like us, seem to watch people's eyes when they are talking to pick up on all those expressive nuances that Eckman has so carefully catalogued. What do you make of individuals who avoid eye contact during conversation? How do you think this affects their ability to understand or interpret the speaker? Could this explain how lying is often signaled by averted eye-contact?

28. Have you ever experienced a 'mind-blind' moment? A moment where conditions were so stressful or confusing, your actions seemed to be the result of temporary autism? If 'mind-blindness' occurs at extreme points of arousal, could this explain why people 'lose their heads' in the heat of the moment and say something they don't mean or cheat on spouses etc?

29. We always wonder how some individuals react to situations that make them heroes like the fireman who ran into the burning building or the ER doctor who operated in the nick of time. Do you think that what separates the 'men from the ' is this ability to control or master one's reactions in moments of extreme stress and arousal?

30. Is this skill accessible? Are you intrigued to practice and believe it is something you could improve?

31. Just as the National Symphony Orchestra members were shocked to find their newly employed horn player was a female, do you think that even as far as we've come with issue of race and gender equality, we still judge with our eyes and ears rather than our instinct? Are our interpretations of events, people, issues etc filtered through our internal ideologies and beliefs? Do you agree that perception is reality? And with this in mind, could improving our powers of rapid cognition ultimately change our reality?
(Questions from the author's website.)

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