Friday, May 25, 2007

In a Blink

Book review Friday. Normally I'm not able to write blog entries on Fridays because I'm at work. But today it's "Book Review Friday" because I'm off work. Yay! (See last entry). Four days off is simply decadent! It really is. I got up at my usual time, 5:30 a.m. and hardly knew what to do with myself. It's such a luxury to poke around the house and not hurry.

I've been reading this book called "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell. It's about the realm of adaptive unconscious - where our minds process information very rapidly without our knowledge and allow us to make snap judgments that are sometimes more accurate and on-target than our more thought-out conscious decisions. He calls this instant knowing "thin slicing" because we only need to take a small sampling or "thin slice" of information to gather a much deeper and more "gut level" reaction that is often more accurate than our carefully gathered and consciously-analyzed decisions.

Gladwell's book is fascinating. It's really a series of almost vignette-style examples from various psychological research to support his conclusions. He's taken various research studies and research from other researchers and compiled them into a framework of supporting his conclusion that people have an unconscious decision-making process that operates much faster and more seamlessly behind-the-scenes than we ever realize. In many ways, if we could trust this "instant intuition" we might prevent many disastrous conscious decisions.

On the other hand, there are definitely circumstances where conscious analysis is more useful. He gives examples of "Blink" gone awry, such as the marketing of New Coke and one of the most horrible presidents in history, Harding. He also talks about how we have unconscious prejudices, such as the unconscious belief among most people that tall people are natural leaders, that can lead us astray in trusting people whom we should take a second look at.

While I enjoyed this book immensely, the one thing missing that I would have liked is a way of practicing the quick-thinking intuitive judgments, a way of honing your "thinking without thinking." It would have been to have included a series of exercises or something. I think I rely on my intuition a lot, and it most often steers me correctly (i.e. finding my husband and trusting my immediate hunch that he was a great guy) . . . but then sometimes I start second-guessing myself and screw up what MIGHT have been a great hunch and turning it into a great big clusterfuck. (Sorry but that's the only word for some of my contorted misjudgments).

I would recommend this book to those who are interested in learning more about how decisions - both good and bad - are made and how we should probably do more "thin slicing" that is, taking less time and a smaller sampling of information, to make reliable decisions.

One of the most fascinating research studies was about the marriage researcher who could decide, in 15 minutes, whether a new marriage would survive or fail (with 95% accuracy), based on a segment of conversation he observed with hundreds of couples. His method of research was very logical and rational, but through it, he developed a way to tell very quickly based on four behaviors he observed that doomed a relationship, namely: contempt (the most disastrous) along with stonewalling, defensiveness, and something else I forgot. Anyway, I've heard about this researcher before, his name is John Gottman. He called those 4 behaviors that doom a relationship "the four horseman of the Apocolypse" because they were the precursors to a failed relationship.

Just take a thin slice of this book yourself and let me know what you think. How about that?

1 comment:

Carol said...

Sounds like a really good book. I agree that sometimes quick decisions are necessary. I have had to make many and have found that usually my first instinct is correct. I think many times we over analyze situations and begin to second guess. Then is where the cluster... begins. That is usually when is it like an accident waiting to happen and I cannot stop it.

As a result, I usually try to make decision and go with it. If it wrong I deal with the fall out then.