Blink – Review
Publisher: Back Bay Books / Little,Brown and Co, Hachette Book Group USA
Location: 237 Park Ave, NY,NY 10169
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 12/12/2008
Summary: The capacity of people to “thin slice” reality or make snap judgments is examined.
In summary, first impressions are correct. Almost.
The website mentioned in BLINK, a computerized Implicit Association Test or IAT is still on the Harvard University research site. This reviewer took one of the IATs, Labor and Management, and had a score of a “slight preference for Labor over Management”. In a labor intensive vein, we will get back to this later.
BLINK is an entertaining look at the ability of the mind to quickly digest, analyze, and assimilate new information. The author almost makes the distinction between information collection and action that is opened ended and information that is tittered to specific time or place, or preconceptions and which may or may not result in action (or a quantifiable reaction). “Thin slicing” is the jargon used to describe the act of forming a first impression. “Thin slicing” is more than sentient reactions however, going by author Malcolm Gladwell’s definition.
“Thin slicing” can allow us to instantly assess the character of a person we meet for the first time. It can allow us to react appropriately to danger even when that danger is three or more levels beneath the signals coming from our environment. “Thin slicing” can also make us look very, very stupid.
Gladwell spends the first part of this book explaining the psychological and physiological mechanisms which make it possible for us to appear “psychic”. He mentions but does not adequately credit the enormous amount of information we process continuously. As Dr. Bruce Lipton points out in his book, THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF [TG review November 2006], the subconscious mind is processing some 20,000,000 environmental stimuli per second. Malcolm Gladwell uses the term “rapid cognition” to denote the processing and eventual “awareness” we have resulting from the process of this environmental stimuli. He gives specific examples.
Gladwell introduces us to research conducted by John Gottman at the University of Washington. Gottman can determine whether a husband and wife engaged in serious conversation for fifteen minutes will still be married fifteen years later. His predictions are 90 percent accurate. The concept is not surprising. We all make such “thin slice”-snap–assessments in any number of situations. What is surprising is that judgments made after only fifteen minutes can be so accurate.
Situations in which “thin slicing” becomes the basis for action are the most entertaining discussions in BLINK. Car salespersons for instance. Personnel specialist who evaluate potential employees are another example. The underlying circumstances in which “thin slicing” is made about the other person in these situations are what I call open-ended. Gladwell relates the example of a car salesman who is successful because he does not allow snap judgments about the capacity of a potential customer to afford to buy a car to control the situation. The customer is there to buy a car. The salesman is there to sell a car. Everything else, how the customer is dressed, the color of their skin, their accent and whatever preconceived notions the salesperson may have in reaction to these personal traits are subordinate to the purpose at hand. Sale a car. Gladwell’s excursion into this area of transient personal relationships which are established within seconds are the enjoyable parts of BLINK.
A less enjoyable though still informative part of BLINK is the exploration of snap decisions grounded in preconceptions. Gladwell makes the distinction in a less than direct manner in part because it is a difficult distinction to make. A “gut” level reaction to meeting a person for the first time to determine whether they are friend or foe versus having preconceived notions of where the person fits within a category of persons is based on their ethnicity is a very subtle difference. But the former snap judgment may is based on the shared commonality of being human, a legacy of our just being part of the animal kingdom; the later is based on experience and ingrained attitudes emanating from our existence as social animals.
Gladwell explains the Pepsi cola challenge in examining snap decisions based on experience. It is an excellent discussion.
In the mid-1980s, the Pepsi cola company launched an advertising campaign in which consumers participated in a blink (blindfolded) taste test of Pepsi cola and Coke. Pepsi easily came out ahead in these taste test. The reason: Pepsi cola is sweeter than Coke and people have a preference for sweets. Gladwell goes on to relate how the reaction of the Coke-a-Cola company to these “thin slicing” reaction by consumers resulted in a disaster for the company.
Unfortunately, two-thirds of BLINK is about snap judgments in the market place. It is unfortunate because there is apparently a great deal more to “thin slicing” and personal relations than presented between its covers. Still, it is a highly entertaining work and well worth reading.
About that Implicit Association Test or IAT: there are apparently a number of IATs on the Harvard University website. Gladwell reports his results for the race relations test. This reviewer did not get that test. Instead there was the management-labor test. The “slight preference for Labor over Management” rating received expresses my (1) belief that labor is more significant in getting results than management or (2) labor, as in work, gets results while management merely lays the framework, or (3) the effectiveness of a labor-management tandem is more apt to be judged by the effectiveness of the labor rather than the direction of the management. Frankly, I have no idea what the test results mean.