Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
So I’m getting on the Gladwell bandwagon a little late – and seemingly going backwards, too. Outliers floored me last month. And I’m hoping to get to The Tipping Point by next month.
But timing is everything: I think I was meant to read Blink now because I have even more appreciation for the whole Susan Boyle phenomenon. And if you somehow don’t know what I’m referring to, then you must click here – be prepared to weep with pure joy. She’s my new hero, that’s for sure!
Gladwell writes in the final chapter about how orchestras hold “blind” auditions – musicians literally play behind a screen – because only then are so-called expert judges able to hear with “just their ears” rather than look first and, in that blink of an eye, make instant (often unfair) assumptions based on what they see. A tiny woman, for example, could never be a great French Horn player because she couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung capacity! “Until they listened to her with just their ears … they had no idea she was so good,” Gladwell writes of that French Horn player, who rightfully plays with the Met.
Our Susan Boyle didn’t have the benefit of a screen. The judges, the audience all saw her first, and in a blink of a rolling-eye, made instant sneering assumptions. Until she sang that very first note … we all heard her and now she’s become our sweetheart phenomenon.
So that’s why I had to read Blink now.
Gladwell’s second book is all about insightful moments. He teaches us about “thin slicing” – our innate ability to make instanteous judgments and decisions literally in the blink of an eye. Certain factors we unconsciously recognize can tell us in an instant when a piece of art is fake, why Tom Hanks is the everyman superstar, or when a potential date is a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ That instant is all you need. In fact, when you have too much information, you can lose that ability for snap judgment and lose insight: Gladwell does an amazing job of explaining why thin slicing heart attacks is far more accurate than diagnoses that factor in a patient’s whole history!
Sometimes, thin slicing can also fail our better judgment. One of the most disturbing instances is how we see the world in terms of race: try the Race Implicit Association Test, a Harvard-developed study at www.implicit.harvard.edu, which “measures attitudes towards blacks and whites.” The results when Gladwell wrote the book? ” … more than 80 percent of all those who have ever taken the test end up having pro-white associations,” including Gladwell himself. And, as he’s quick to point out, he’s half black; his mother is Jamaican. While we can choose our conscious attitudes – racism is wrong – our unconscious attitudes get involuntarily formed by all the other data that seeps in unnoticed. And that’s when we have to be most careful: Gladwell painstakingly deconstruct the tragic case of Amadou Diallo, a black immigrant in the Bronx who was shot (with 41 bullets!) and killed by four white officers in the Bronx.
“Taking rapid cognition seriously – acknowledging the incredible power, for good and ill, that first impressions play in our lives – requires that we take active steps to manage and control those impressions,” Gladwell intones. Truly, that’s our responsibility as thinking, hopefully evolving, human beings.