I came across ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’ from my Ph.D. supervisor. He suggested a few books to read in my leisure time. The reason I picked Blink over other books is because of its title! I was curious to know what does the author means by ‘thinking without thinking’. Now that I have finished reading it, I decided to pen down my first reflection about it. I would like to clarify that this is not a book review as it does not speak about it in its entirety!
Blink is a collection of real-world stories from the 20th century. Every story had some sort of impact on society according to their scale of operation. For example, shooting of young boy at Wheeler Avenue, Manhattan in 1999 by patrolling police resulted in protests and demonstrations throughout the city (i.e. city level impact). In another example of Coke vs Pepsi (Pepsi Challenge), almost an entire generation of the society was part of the story. Gladwell takes us through the stories to unfurl his idea of ‘thin-slicing’. For me, the smooth transition from one story to another has been the most joyful part while reading however there were instances where I found the author contradicting his own statements. Gladwell explains thin-slicing as our ability to take decisions under rapidly changing situations with limited information at hand. Our subconscious mind uses our past experience to draw conclusions during a critical juncture of a certain incident. Such incidents happen at milliseconds level and in the blink of an eye. A police officer dealing with suspect and constantly interpreting from his movements, first impressions of an expert authenticating an ancient sculpture, popularity predictions by music companies while listening to a new music for the first time, accurate diagnosis of patient’s disease by doctors with limited resources and under heavy workload are the cases used for explaining thin slicing.
The cases illustrated also show that thin-slicing can sometimes lead to wrong conclusions, leading to unexpected outcomes. In the later part of the book, Gladwell mentions that one of the ways to master thin-slicing is to extend the time taken for decision making. This doesn’t mean extending time in seconds and minutes. It means It’s easier said than done. It needs practice and mind training. ‘Blink’ discovers the power of using thin-slicing in detail and discusses methods to train ourselves to use it effectively in brief. Gladwell uses the power of the glance, autism and mind-reading, priming, subconscious bias to elucidate the concept of thin slicing.
The Goldman Algorithm
The work of a cardiologist Lee Goldman who came up with a decision tree to predict heart attacks based on just three rick factors (The Goldman Algorithm) reminded me of those doctors who are known for diagnosing disease just by holding patient’s wrist and checking his/her pulse rate. Where does perfection come from? How did they achieve it? What goes inside their head every time they see a new patient? ‘Blink’ deep dives into such questions. I believe these are the people who have mastered themselves for using their subconscious mind to infer from patient’s signs and indications of certain diseases. They take charge of the first few moments of their visit and the miracle happens! How? Gladwell explains it well in the book J
Blink introduced me to ‘improv comedy’ wherein artists perform unscripted and unplanned comedy skits on the stage by picking up clues from the audience. There are few improv-comedy based groups based in Mumbai who organize such events. I liked the concept so much that I am keeping eye on their next shows. Here are two videos I have got on Youtube. Watch them out!
5 Min: Improv Comedy Mumbai at Canvas Laugh Factory [Vid 1]
4 Min: Improv Comedy Mumbai at Canvas Laugh Factory [Vid 2]
Blink is full of real-life incidents and research stories. The cases discussed in the book showed how qualitative research has been used by various scholars in the past century. I was constantly finding research tools, samples, research strategies in each of the cases. Blink has clarified my prejudices about the application of qualitative research in real life. To be frank, I found the book boring at many places because of unnecessary details and repetitive arguments. I feel that It’s not a book for all as it speaks on a specific topic of a specific field of study i.e. adaptive unconscious in the field of psychology. The end could have been subtler and meaningful. I felt unfinished even after reading it completely.
Despite all, I am happy that I got to know many historical events that had happened in the 20th century. I consider it like a trip to the 20th-century world through Gladwell’s eye.