Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Blink

Blink is about thin-slicing and making snap judgements, usually in the first two seconds of seeing with our eyes. The author, Malcolm Gladwell who also wrote the other bestselling book The Tipping Point, provides lots of compelling real-life examples: marriage, what happens in ER during heart attacks, speed dating, selling cars, military situations, and so on.

Blink is a timely read as some of its content is partly related to the marketing subject I am currently studying, thus, offering a fresh perspective. In the chapter on the right and wrong way to ask people, I read about marketers performing various tests and implementing various strategies to outdo their competitors. In the Coca Cola versus Pepsi example, Pepsi is favoured by testers in sip tests – why? Coca Cola came out with an ‘improved flavour’ and named it the “New Coke”. Die-hard Coke fans protested and the new product was doomed from the beginning even though Coca Cola went by the public’s first impression. They did their homework, market research, etc. So what went wrong? To find out, please read the book.

Gladwell also states that too much information is confusing. Let’s take a look at the following cases. In the ER heart attack scenario, how does the hospital staff gauge as accurately as possible which patient will have a real attack and which one will not? This is important because the hospital is operating on a shoestring budget and needs to allocate very tight resources. The mass of information gathered by the hospital staff through long questioning makes the task near impossible because every patient is now 'opened to attack'. How about the next scenario? In the most expensive war game ever staged by Pentagon, the officials were bogged down by matrixes, systems for decision making, and information. As a result of that, they failed miserably to a "rogue military commander" played by a retired but highly experienced military officer. The lesson: To make better instant judgements, train our mind to focus on what is relevant and edit unnecessary inputs. What it is saying here is that training and experience is crucial.

In mind reading – this is another interesting chapter – it deals with facial expressions and facial muscles, plus the feelings associated with them. Experts spent years studying and coding the multitude of expressions and facial muscles responsible. But for us, we don’t need to be experts. We just need to know enough to be effective. Mind reading, for most of us, is an ability that improves with practice.

While there are many advantages in “thinking without thinking”, there are certainly dangers too, as illustrated in the Warren Harding error (i.e. selection of Harding as the president of America based solely on his good looks) and mind blindness (e.g. tragic murder of Amadou Diallo, a black guy living in the Bronx).

In making snap judgements we usually succumbed to prejudices and stereotypes; more so when time is a factor, either running out of time or no time. As in the case of the unfortunate Diallo, the police committed an error in their ‘reading’ and everything happened so fast resulting in the lost of an innocent life. Similarly in the assassination of Reagan, things happened so fast that his bodyguards did not have time to react in those split seconds. More puzzling was, why didn’t the highly trained bodyguards sense the assassinator?

What can I say? Reading Blink is an eye-opening experience and brings awareness about the workings of our conscious and unconscious mind. This is an unputdownable book. Even though it took me so long to get started on it, I took one day to finish. The author has a good sense of humour and the writing is entertaining in an informative way. I learned a lot.