Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Our world is embedded with the glorification of rational thinking – every business must have a plan, every war a strategy, every decision an explanation. As Gladwell shows in Blink, though, things rarely go according to plan, especially when following the plan depends on various uncontrollable factors, such as the weather, other people or our own feelings.

We might think that we can always control, predict or explain our feelings, but it is not true. Often – almost always when confronted with something new we don’t even know what we feel. We feel, but cannot express what it is; or interpret it in the wrong way. That’s why market research often won’t give us any usable results. We listen to some music and like it, but often have no clue why we do so. Studies have shown that if we try to explain why we like something, we are very likely to BS, because a week later we would give a totally different explanation to this question, as we never really understand why we feel how we feel.

We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.

If we train ourselves to decipher these feelings on the fields of our expertise, we will slowly develop the ability to make effective snap judgments. A professional knows better what people would like than people themselves. Even if the professional wouldn’t quite be able to explain why.

Malcolm points to the research of Ap Dijksterhuis who found a pattern in our decision making processes’ effectiveness. It says that when there’s just a few options with a few differences to weigh, radical judgments are most effective, however when the choice is among myriad of options with uncountable variables, gut feeling brings us to the best results.

Why?

In some cases, rational thinking can bring us to confirmation bias, we will draw conclusions which we want to come to from the rationale, but fail to see the bigger picture. Such as we would want the handsome man to be our perfect match, so blinded by the visuals, we’d ignore all the signs telling us to run the other way.

He brings out the story of a woman in an orchestra which was one of the first to hold an audition behind screens. She went, played the masculine instrument – the men listening just knew that this was the sound they wanted. When they saw that the person who played the most perfect sound was a woman, all discrimination-hell broke loose, because they were embedded with the dogma of the time that believed women were weaker in playing most instruments. All that despite their snap judgement on the sound she produced stated the contrary.

How could we draw great conclusions on something if there is so much noise in our perception that lets prejudice alter our judgement?

Becoming a pro

Snap judgments arise from the complexity of our subconscious. The more we are primed to feel biased against different groups of people – the more prejudiced our judgments are. However, the more we get primed to feel that all people have great potential to do amazing things, regardless of their gender, race or socioeconomic background, the prejudice crumbles.

It takes great training of drawing conclusions from small isolated details to become automatic in pattern-spotting till being able to know in the blink of an eye.

We should trust our snap judgments when choosing a partner for life or home furniture, but weigh the options when purchasing a frying pan, unless we are pros on the pan field.

It sounds provocative to hear yet once again how little control our consciousness has over ourselves. As another revelation on how automatic we, humans really are, this book should be a must read in high schools for all to understand how much of our behaviour and feelings are out of conscious control and how could we gain control over our prejudices.

Businesses don’t really follow plans, because the markets behave unexpectedly; wars should forget strategy, as most villains work on a whim. The law of Murphy is everywhere: happens, what can happen. This means, we should behave according to situations, learn to be more spontaneous and forget planning. If nothing ever goes to plan, writing it is just a waste of time.

Read it.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

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