Blink Summary - Malcolm Gladwell

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Blink Summary
Self Help & Motivation, Spirituality & Mindfulness and Psychology

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-0316010665

Also available in audiobook


Blink is yet another of Malcolm Gladwell's greatest hits. It was published in 2005, following the mega-hit Tipping Point. The book explores psychological and neurological research to understand how human intuition works. Are you having trouble understanding the excess information around you? Maybe your intuition can help you make better and faster decisions. You probably already use your intuition much more than you realize; even when you think you've analyzed a situation rationally and gotten to some logical decision, you're probably just recalling your initial instinct. In Blink, Gladwell proves that your intuition can often produce better decisions than extensive analysis. Your intuition can cut off all irrelevant information and focus only on the key factors. On the other hand, your gut instinct is also affected by all sorts of unconscious factors such as biases that can lead you to make bad decisions. This book is here to help you know when, how, and why you should use your intuition. Shall we go? We feel you will enjoy it!

The Statue Which Didn't Look Real

Your brain relies on two strategies for making decisions in any situation, one of which is conscious information analysis. It is based on weighing the advantages, disadvantages and possible impacts of a certain subject so that a rational decision about what you have to do is reached. That is a rational processing, but it occurs slowly and consumes a lot of brainpower. The second strategy is quick as a snap and consumes little energy. Your intuition is fast as lightning and can make decisions extremely fast, based on instinct rather than in-depth analysis. Intuition allows the brain to work in situations where a decision needs to be made fast, and there is no time for in-depth analysis. Many people tend not to trust their instincts and make decisions based solely on in-depth analysis. However, it is interesting to note that research proves, in many cases, quick decisions are often better than those taken after in-depth analysis. Gladwell cites an example in which a museum in 1983 purchased an ancient Greek statue. Initially, the museum suspected the authenticity of the piece, but after more than a year of investigations decided to buy it. The investigation was so extensive that the statue was sent for testing in Greece by Greek specialists. Three years later, in 1986, the museum was certain that the statue was original and decided to put it on display. But again, experts quickly began to doubt its authenticity. The first was historian Federico Zeri, who observed with a quick glance that the nails of the statue looked strange. He could not explain the reason, but he had a bad feeling about the statue. Subsequently, several other experts had similar doubts, and the museum began a second investigation, finding that the statue could possibly be fake. The statue remains to this day, but with a different plaque, which says "Year 350 before Christ OR a modern fascination." In many situations, there are patterns the unconscious recognizes faster than the conscious and logical mind. It is precisely in these moments that we must rely on our quick decisions. There are decisions and perceptions that occur in the blink of an eye, and you need to be aware of them.

Slice To Decide

To decide, it is often easier to focus on some aspects of something or someone and use this slice to create a larger or more complex opinion about it. Gladwell calls this Thin Slicing technique. The technique relies on using our unconscious ability to find patterns in situations and behaviors based on small experiences. The psychologist John Gottman, for example, became known for being able to determine with a 90% correction rate if a marriage would perpetuate. He was able to do this with only 15 minutes or less of observation. He trained his assistants in his laboratory to understand couples' facial expressions and feelings communicated through body language and thus be able to make effective predictions. Gottman's research is interesting because it states that human beings do not need to know much about someone to understand their personality. Gladwell also cites other examples of this "slicing", the ability to have an understanding from a small volume of information. For example, a stranger can identify a person's personality through a look in their room in just 15 minutes. It is often more effective to focus on some important facts and block the rest. We can make hasty judgments because our unconscious is incredibly effective in this process of isolating information. The important thing is to know how we choose the information we will discard and which we will keep during the slicing process. One must be careful, after all, the choice of the wrong piece of information can lead to disastrous results.

Is Your Mind Capable Of Guessing Without You Understanding The Reason?

The answer is yes, and Gladwell proves it, by describing an experiment conducted by a group of scientists at the University of Iowa, involving a card game. In front of the participants, there were four decks, two red and two blue. Each card in these decks made the participant who drew it win or lose money. Participants also used polygraphs to detect their level of stress during the experiment. What the participants did not know is that the cards in the red deck were more damaging than those in the blue deck. The red deck had cards with rewards, but mostly with huge losses, while the blue deck had cards with good, stable rewards.

The participant began by taking random letters from the four decks. Around the fiftieth time, he realized that the red deck was worse than the blue deck and he was betting on the latter. It was noticed, however, from the analysis of the results of the polygraph that the participants already showed signs of stress when turning the cards from the red deck much earlier, around the tenth time. Thus, scientists have discovered that their subconscious understands the game long before their rational brain. Your body and your intuition knew which was the best pack, but your mind takes much longer to assimilate.

We Cannot Find Rational Explanations For Our Intuitions

Many tend to rely on facts and figures above feelings and intuitions, and that is why they usually come with logical explanations for their hasty judgments after doing them. Humans are similar to the art experts who discovered the Greek statue forgery. Our intuition tells us that something is not right or that we can trust someone, but we are not able to articulate why it happens. As an example, Malcolm cites Vic Braden, one of the greatest tennis coaches who was able to predict double faults with high accuracy. Before the player started playing, he would say: 'he will double fault.' However, Braden was tormented by the fact that he did not know how he could predict these plays. He thought about his foreboding, but he could not conclude as to why he was so good at guessing. In another example, in an event where couples were coming to meet each other, people had to describe the qualities they were looking for in the ideal partner. But when it came to choosing, they were attracted to people who did not have any of the attributes they listed. When asked what attracted them to their partners, the participants were not able to explain why they were intuitively against the very lists they had created.

Unconscious Associations Change Our Ability To Decide (And May Lead To Error)

The unconscious influences our actions all the time, and this can be the root of errors and prejudices. Most people, for example, unconsciously and automatically associate attributes such as being white and tall with qualities like power and competence. Even if we know that men with these characteristics are no more competent than blacks or short-statured people, we form these associations unconsciously. Several surveys prove that it's easier to be professionally successful if you're a tall, white man. One proof of this kind of problem is what happened to Warren Harding. He was elected President of the United States after World War I because his constituents simply believed he looked presidential. However, he clearly did not have the necessary skills and history records him as one of the worst presidents.

Emotional Expressions Reveal That A Person Is Thinking

Scientists have shown that emotional expressions are a universal phenomenon. People in all regions of the world can recognize a facial expression of happiness, anger or sadness. However, some people are blind to non-verbal signals: they only understand information transmitted explicitly and are not able to read faces of other people. That is the case with children with autism, for example. But in fact, non-autistic people can become temporarily autistic due to stress and pressure. When we are stressed, we tend to ignore indirect cues such as facial expressions and devote our full attention to the information in question. This situation may, for example, cause you to make wrong judgments based on your emotional situation. To avoid these pre-judgments, you have to slow down and reduce stress in your environment. From a certain level of stress, the logical thinking process stops completely, and people become unpredictable.

Consumers Don't Always Know What They Want

Companies do market research to try to identify new opportunities to create products and thus attract more customers. However, in many cases, a search is unable to predict what will actually work and what the consumer wants. A notorious example is a research cited by Malcolm, in which Coca-Cola performed thousands of taste tests compared to Pepsi and found that its consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi. This study led Coca to launch a new product, with a new flavor that had gone very well in the tests, the "New Coke". The new Coca-Cola was widely rejected, and in a short space of time, it was withdrawn from the market. Strange, isn’t it? The reason the test failed so dramatically was that consumers tasted only the taste of the product but were not exposed to all the elements of the Coca-Cola brand that help shape customer perception. Coca-Cola is not just a taste, but an experience that mixes flavor, packaging, commercial. Simplifying the experiment to evaluate only the taste compromised the ability to understand people's perception, after all, no one takes soda with eyes closed. Only taking a sip is different from drinking the whole bottle. Sometimes a sip may taste good but a glass may not. Another interesting point is that when companies launch innovative products, consumers tend to evaluate these products negatively at the start of their life cycle. Consumers need time to get used to new products, and only after some time, they begin to like them. Experiencing new things is the key to breaking down prejudices. Gladwell quotes research which proves that Americans have more trouble associating positive qualities with the word "black" than with the word "white." This prejudice exists even in the black population. That is because the unconscious learns through observation. The American elite is almost entirely made up of white people, and through this observation of how the world works, people develop the unconscious association between white skin and success. Therefore, prejudices influence our behavior at all times and we must find and work them. To overcome these prejudices, you have to find ways to change these unconscious attitudes and the only way to do this is to try new things and expose yourself to new situations. Also, to avoid bad judgments, you need to ignore irrelevant information.

Avoid The Mental Traps

Unconscious prejudices and stereotypes can strongly influence your decisions. You must consciously protect yourself from conflicting information that you can plant in your brain. Denying our rash unconscious judgments is crucial to ensuring we make better decisions. If you are an executive at a record company, for example, the physical attributes of a potential artist can taint your judgment. In this case, it is ideal that you create your filters to collect only relevant information and thus make the best decision. For example: In The Voice, judges sit facing the audience to ensure that the only information they have about a candidate is their voice. If they like what they hear, they push a button and then face the candidate to choose who they want on their team. Ignoring the candidate’s visual aspect helps select the best talent. Think about your life, find areas where you have multiple biases and analysis limitations because of biases and prejudices. Think about how you could filter these elements from your judgment and you will be able to make better decisions.

Final Notes:

In the blink of an eye, we can make important decisions, using our accumulated experience and the thousands of years of evolution of the human being. In this book, Malcolm wants you to learn 2 main things:

Decisions made quickly can be as good as long and highly deliberate ones. Not always a well thought out, analytical decision is the best answer to a situation and if we look for agility, an intuitive decision may be the answer;

How to know when to trust your instincts and when to take care not to fall victim to them. Instant judgments can be learned and controlled, and you can mentally slice the issues. Your intuition can be your friend! Just understand how it works.

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Who wrote the book?

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian author and longtime staff writer for The New Yorker. Gladwell is renowned for his unique viewpoints of popular culture, and author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Tipping Point,” “Blink,” “Outliers,” “What the Dog Saw,” and... (Read more)