I just finished blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell maintains a column at the pretigious New Yorker of which I am an avid fan. I was actually interested in blink when it first came out a couple of months back but never got the time to purchase it. Anyway, I am glad that I did.
blink has a lot to offer. Gladwell has done a fantastic attempt at codifying the abstract. How would someone actually try to explain something as ethereal as intuition without sounding like a fortune teller? It is in this area that Gladwell's flair for writing really shines. He begins the book with an example of how some art connoisseurs could tell that a piece of art (a kourous, to be exact) was fake just by relying on their gut feeling. None of them were able to articulate why they have that gut feeling. In other words, most of them just could not put their finger on something. To them, that piece of art looked jarringly out of place. That intuition is what it means to think in the blink of an eye without actually thinking about it. And it comes from experience.
In fact, a couple of chapters through the book, Gladwell explains why sometimes it is important that you do not force yourself to deliberately articulate why you think something should be this way. Now, this goes against a lot against the principles we have been taught: do not say anything if you have nothing to back you up. However, in an experiment concerning the rating of fruit jams, participants' ratings of jams commensurate more with the experts' ratings when they were just asked to quickly rate the jams in quick succession. When the participants were asked to actually to justify their choices in words before giving a rank, their ratings were very different from the experts' choices.
Now, not everyone can actually describe why one type of jam is better than the next. It requires extensive yet precise terms that only a gourmet would possess. When an ordinary person like you or me is forced to describe food in words, we are not able to describe all the nuances in flavor clearly. As such, our description actually skews our intuition since we now think that description is more logical and thus must be paramount in our decision making. After all, we did spend an awful long time sitting there and coming up with logical descriptions of the jams.
This comes as a great shock to me. I have always believed that a good decision comes after some lengthy deliberation on my part. However, what Gladwell proposes is that in a situation where articulation is next to impossible, we should rely on our gut feeling. Of course, identifying that actual moment or scenario might be harder than we think. As a consolation for me, Gladwell's book does not seem to undermine the importance of actually making decisions. It is my pet peeve when someone is not able to make up their mind on simple decisions such as going out to catch a movie or going to eat dinner. But I digress...
blink uses real-life examples to illustrate the points that Gladwell makes. As usual, Gladwell has done some extensive research and interviews and even if you do not believe everything in blink about intuition and gut feeling, you could just finish the book for the sake of knowing some juicy new anecdotes which you can share with your colleagues.
All in all, blink is a fairly quick read; one which you can definitely finish in about half a day especially if you are traveling.Tweet
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