Blink The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Cliff Notes

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Blink is about the adaptive unconscious. The moment where we can sum up all the data that is before us and make an informed instant decision. Our brain is like a giant computer which processes data instantly to give the first impression.

Blink demonstrates this by looking at a study that can break a marriage down into core elements which will determine whether it will be successful or not. However even those observations can be thin sliced even further to just one core element – the presence of contempt.

Gladwell goes on to demonstrate that even though we need experience and infromation to thin slice deciions, too much information actually hinders this ability. He uses several examples to prove this, the best being the War Games and choosing jam.

The US staged a war game in 1999 with the home Blue Team having every conceivable source of information about the enemy, Red Team. Howevr the Red Team was led by a decorated war hero who defeated them in an instant. He summed up by saying “In chess i can see the whole board, but that doesn’t mean I’ll win because I don’t know what the enemy is thinking.”

When buying jam, consumers are more likely to make the snap purchase if there are only six jams to choose from rather than twenty. The more choices they are given, the more difficult the decision and the consumer suffer from analysis paralysis.

It’s this thin slicing of information that enables snap decisions. Our minds can collate all the history of our experience and thin slice it into the key information we need to make a decision. Yet in further experiments of subtle suggstion, it was found that exposure to certain words can influence behaviour so, our snap decisions are influenced by culture.

At this point Gladwell goes even deeper by looking at examples of how snap decisions go terribly wrong, by concentrating on a case where four police officers shot down an innocent black man, in seven seconds. They thought they saw a gun, they thought an officer had been shot down, they all opened fire. When they realised what they had done, they were all devastated.

Blink discussed the many elements that affect our judgement, our culture, our experience, the data that is placed before us. So the very things that help us, also hinder us. So how can we make a good snap decision? Suddenly thinking without thinking has lost its power, because we cannot think at all with too much information.

Gladwell demonstrates the point by telling the story of a famous orchestra who decided to put up screens to audition their musicians, so they only heard the music rather than judge the contender by looks, attitutde, the way they held the instrument etc. They found that this was how they eventually began to choose women into the orchestra – by talent alone.

Gladwell defines blink:- “what all the stories and studies and arguments add up to – is an attempt to understand this magical and mysterious thing called judgement.” The key question that Gladwell has been asked about Blink is “When should we trust our instincts, and when should we consciously think things through?” and he turns to Freud for the short answer ” When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the imporant decision of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”

And finally Gladwell sums up the ponderings of Blink beautifully by considering “I think that the task of figuring out how to combine the best of conscious deliberation and instinctive judgement is one of the great challenges of our time.”

Blink, as with all of Gladwell’s works, is a rich text of many stories and examples to illustrate the point, and reels you in ever so gently until you find yourself in the middle of a strong argument, which he gently brings you through to the end, to leave you pondering, why you think the way you do, how we can change it, and how we can harness it.


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