Friday Book in a Page: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

What if our subconscious brain actually was smarter than our conscious thinking brain? And what if we actually trusted ourselves to take our hands off the (metaphorical) wheel and actually test out that theory? 

I’ve read enough to know academically that there is substance and proof in this theory. It’s the trusting to find out that I struggle with. I think I need to know why it works.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink first introduced me in 2005 to the idea that it was the subconscious mind driving the bus. At that point in my life and career, I read it with a marketer and brand strategist’s eye - continually asking myself, “How can I use this information to build and nurture emotionally based relationships with consumers on behalf of my clients?” (Yes - in those days I was single-mindedly focussed on only growing my career - becoming ‘smarter’ and thus ‘more valuable.’ Today, thankfully, my life view has broadened). 

So I picked it up again this week to see if it read differently. Much to my delight, almost 20 years later, and with a slightly different lens, it still holds up as seminal, perhaps even better. 

Here’s my Book in a Page on Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

Key Messages:

Insight #1: The Adaptive Unconscious

Our decision-making process is governed by something called the "adaptive unconscious." Our minds possess an incredible ability to process vast amounts of information in the blink of an eye. This intuitive prowess, honed through years of experience, often leads us to make accurate assessments without consciously understanding why. Trust it - but know that it is built on the information that you have fed it and continue to feed it. Think of it similar to the Netflix algorithm; it only knows what to recommend to you based on your watching history. But does have the ability to be alarmingly accurate.

Insight #2: The Power of Thin-Slicing

Ever wondered how we can accurately assess someone's character in mere seconds? Enter "thin-slicing." This peculiar phenomenon shows how our minds extract meaning from small snippets of information, allowing us to make surprisingly accurate judgments about people, objects, and situations. “Thin-slicing” became the Gladwellism that this book became famous for introducing into our vocabulary.

Insight #3: Priming and Implicit Bias

Our unconscious biases shape our decisions through the lens of "priming.” These are subtle environmental cues that unconsciously influence our thoughts and behaviour, shedding light on the roots of implicit bias that pervade our society.

Insight #4: The Dark Side of Rapid Cognition

The dark side of rapid cognition also includes situations where our intuition fails us, leading to errors or misjudgments. Our adaptive unconscious can process information quickly, it is not infallible. Unconscious snap judgments may not align with reality.

Insight #5: Expert Intuition

Because we are building a database of information in the adaptive unconscious there really is something to the judgement delivered by experts - from firefighters to art historians, Gladwell shows how people develop expert intuition through pattern recognition and develop the ability to assess complex situations rapidly (and accurately).

Lasting Message: We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.

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