Book Review: Blink: Malcolm Gladwell

Posted on February 28, 2011

Trust your instincts, except when you shouldn’t.

Once again I’m late to the party. Although, in my defense, I understood the premise of ‘Blink‘. It’s simple really. Malcolm Gladwell argues that our brains are preternaturally capable of making sophisticated decisions in the blink of an eye, without our consciousness being involved. We all know the feeling; how sometimes you just ‘know’ something, without really having thought about it. Gladwell tries to take us beyond the hunches to show us the science behind this, and help us to know when and where to use the incredible power in between our ears.

This concept of making split second decisions has wide ranging implications. One of the more intense sections is about police officers who feel threatened, shoot and kill a man, only to find that he was actually reaching for his wallet. Why weren’t they able to read his expression?

There are times when we shouldn’t trust our instincts. The one example that he uses is the presidency of William Henry Harrison. Now, he is one of the presidents that came after Lincoln and before Roosevelt, which I call the ‘Bullshit Presidents.’ Harrison was handsome and was one of those people that just looked smart. So, he was elected. Turns out he sucked. Hard.

On the flipside are examples of experts telling forgeries from the real thing with nothing more than a second glance, tennis coaches who can tell during the toss of a second serve if it’s going to be a double fault and speed dating.

As with every Gladwell book, this is heavy on the anecdotes. While he does get into the science of it, the fact remains that there is very little research on the subject. And that’s kind of what bugged me about this book. This is a really nebulous concept and although he gets into studies that have shown that this does happen, there’s really no ‘why’. There’s a little ‘how’, but even that was a bit confusing.

Bottom line, if you like reading a bunch of stories about the incredible processing power of your brain, then go for it. It’s particularly worthwhile for the chapter where an uppity colonel beats the US Armed Forces at their own game. It will make you think about how you make decisions and maybe you will pause the next time you ‘want all the possible information.’

If you’re looking for a well sourced analysis of your brains more subtle functions, then you may want to take a pass. Or, ask yourself whether you really need to know everything.

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4 Responses to “Book Review: Blink: Malcolm Gladwell”

  1. Evie on March 1st, 2011 7:41 am

    Heath – read more about how people “justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts” in Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Tavris & Aronson – I also read Blink and thought it was interesting enough to finish but didn’t get the hype.

  2. Heath on March 1st, 2011 10:10 am

    Cool. That sounds awesome. Yeah I was reading this at the same time I was reading about the ‘where do good ideas come from’ book (Blink was a work book) and I found the Ideas book to be significantly more interesting. However, there was a lot of overlap.

  3. Michael A. Robson on November 17th, 2011 10:33 am

    The Site looks great. Ok Blink. I actually bought this book because TWO of my heroes were big on intuition.

    In no particular order, Phil Jackson actually gave this book to Kobe Bryant years ago to help him make last second decisions (see the floor, be the ball! hehe).

    On a more somber note, Steve Jobs used tons of ‘intuition’ during product design meetings (his latest bio), and I figured a book on intuition (barring a trip to India) was the only way to understand that. I’m still not sure how to do it though :P

  4. Heath on November 17th, 2011 3:14 pm

    Sweet. Yeah the thing that I took from this book is that you should trust your intuition if you know what you’re doing.

    I didn’t know this was one of Phil Jackson’s books that he handed off.

    Definitely want to pick up ‘the tipping point.’

    Glad you like the site!

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