[2011-09-21] “Blink”

“Blink” is a book by Malcom Gladwell on rapid cognition, that is, our ability and tendency to take decisions and form opinions in the blink of an eye, without taking the time needed to fully evaluate the matter at hand using all the available evidence. We are usually not conscious of such behavior and cannot normally explain it, if forced to do so. This “thin-slicing” (as the author calls it) helps us a lot in our lives, but we need to be aware of its disadvantages and work towards turning it into an advantage.

There are quite a few and varied anecdotes that the author manages to stuff into this little book to illustrate his points. The breadth of these anecdotes is amazing - I have no idea how the author manages to find so many of them from different fields in support of his points. However anecdotes, being what they are, are hardly conclusive evidence that can prove the author's points. They usually fail to mention or account for another factor that could provide an alternate explanation. In some of the cases, the anecdote in question doesn't even seem to support the author's point (most notably the story of the military war-games between the Red and the Blue teams, where the Red team's behavior appears more deliberate than the author cares to admit), except if you just take his word for it.

In fact there doesn't seem to be much of a point in the book. The author initially seems to argue that we take quite a few decisions in the blink of an eye without much data to support them, which turn out to be the right thing to do. Then the author seems to argue that many a time these decisions and judgements go awfully wrong and we'd really be better off resisting our irrational urges to go with them. Finally the author seems to show that snap decisions work best for experts in their area of expertise or when it is backed by deliberate and sustained practice.

Why does one need a book to tell them this?

In other words, get this book as a light read that tells some interesting stories, but don't expect to get any big insights. As they say here in India, this is a “time-pass” book.

Other Posts from 2011