Blink22 min read

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Blink explains what happens when you listen to your gut feeling, why these snap judgments are often much more efficient than conscious deliberating, and how to avoid your intuition leading you to wrong assumptions.

I really wonder how one man can discover so many insights and change the way we think in several, only loosely related areas, like Malcolm Gladwell. From success to human intuition to macro-economic trends, his curiosity seems to know no boundaries.

Do you think he decides his next book’s topic in the blink of an eye, or rather deliberately after giving it some thought? While that’s a question I can’t answer, Blink can help you understand how your own intuition works, and when it’s best to trust it, or keep analyzing.

Here are 3 lessons about the surprising power of human intuition:

Your unconscious is the world’s fastest filter of information.

Stress can lead your gut astray.

Put up screens in situations where you can’t trust your intuition.

Ready to school your snap judgment system? Here we go!

Lesson 1: Your unconscious is the world’s fastest filter of information.

There’s a rule, which says you should only make decisions when you have at least 40% of the relevant information, but never wait until you have more than 70%.

It’s called the 40-70 rule and it describes the ideal relationship between time and information, ensuring you act fast, but not uninformed, without waiting until making a decision eventually becomes moot.

The funny thing is that in most situations, focusing on very few, but crucially important facts, while blocking out all the rest, is enough to do so.

For example when deciding whether to move to apartment A or apartment B, knowing location, price and having a few pictures is usually all you need. Once you over-analyze every detail, such as where the plugs are more conveniently placed, it becomes impossible to make a good call, because the little puzzle pieces of information start to hide the much more important ones.

Lucky for you, your unconscious is the best and fastest information filtering system in the world.

When first confronted with new information, it sifts through all of it, instantly tossing out the less important factors, judging the few big ones in a split second, and presenting you with the solution.

However, even your unconscious gets it wrong sometimes.

Lesson 2: Stress can temporarily lead your gut down the wrong path.

For example in a high stress environment, your ability to read other people’s facial expressions rapidly declines.

When your boss completely loses it, gets a big, fat, red head, and screams at you from the top of his lungs, flailing his arms and making wild and rude gestures, you might end up punching him in the face, simply due to the fear of a physical attack, that his current emotional state triggers in you.

Similarly, a police officer will sometimes shoot an unarmed man, just because he holds a black leather wallet. This inability to read nonverbal cues is very common among autistic people. They can’t instinctively judge a person’s intentions and emotional state based on gestures, facial expressions, and behavior, which is why they have to rely on what information is communicated.

When you find yourself in a stressful situation, this can render you temporarily autistic, and you develop a sort of tunnel vision, focusing on only the most imminent, threatening piece of information. This will lead your gut to make the wrong call often times, so it should be prevented whenever possible.

If in a stressful situation, you should try to reduce the stress as quickly as possible. Take a walk to cool off, hide and breathe for a few minutes, or continue the conversation at a later point, to make sure your tunnel vision doesn’t go into overdrive.

Lesson 3: Use screens to filter irrelevant information in scenarios where your gut tends to be wrong.

Apart from stressful situations, sometimes associations are forged so deeply in our brain, that it’s hard to turn them off, even though we might know they’re wrong.

For example, you might expect every Asian to be good at math, Fortune 500 CEOs as tall, white men and good singers to be beautiful. That last one comes from the music industry artificially pushing any singers visual image during performances, on album covers and in music videos, until we ultimately believed all singers to be beautiful.

But if you’re an agent for a record label, that’s a problem. You’re supposed to find the best singers, not models. In this case it’s good to create your own screens and filters, to keep the irrelevant information (here: looks) from ever reaching your brain in the first place.

For example, the casting show “The Voice” has judges in chairs, their backs turned to the stage, so the only information they get from the singer is what their voice sounds like. If they like what they hear, they can hit a button and turn around, automatically confirming they’d like to have the singer on their team.

So if music agents just scout talent based on audio samples, they’ll probably make much better decisions. Think through your own life and you’ll surely come across one or two areas, where your decisions are usually heavily biased, because of ancient prejudices you hold. Try to think of a few screens and filters you could use to make sure you only get those relevant 40% of information.

My personal take-aways

Another fascinating book by Malcolm Gladwell. Packed with examples, this makes a good case for why we should probably listen to our gut more often than we allow ourselves to.

The summary provides a good recollection of the ark of the book, but of course skips plenty of the examples. It’s still a great introductory read to the topic, so you can confidently check it out before committing to reading the entire book.

Blink   –   Malcolm Gladwell


What’s it about?

Intuition can be an extremely powerful tool in decision-making

Intuition can be more effective than reasoned logic

Expert intuition can sometimes even overturn scientific evidence

The unconscious mind focuses on only the vital, relevant information

Intuition-based judgments are more common than you think

Unconscious associations can affect our judgment

Stress can negatively impact our judgment

Consumer behavior cannot always be determined accurately by market research

To eliminate prejudice we must cultivate an open mind

To make good, unprejudiced decisions we need to ignore irrelevant information

Final summary

Now read the book

What’s it about?

We live in a world where careful analysis is preferred over instinctive thinking; where we spend a great deal of time trying to come to reasoned and rationalized decisions. But what if all this rigorous evaluation could be skipped and decisions could be made based on a single feeling or thought?

Well, it is possible – and, in fact, we all do it every single day, and almost every single moment. Humans use their power of instinctive thinking to make thousands of tiny decisions every day, from what route to take to work to how to make a cup of tea in the morning. But the possibilities of intuitive thinking are far broader than the minutiae of our daily routines. How many times have you heard of someone making an important decision just because it “felt right”?

By implementing a simple technique called “thin-slicing,” we can instantly analyze vast amounts of collected information to gain insights that drive our ability to arrive instinctively at the right decision. Thin-slicing helps us learn better and operate more effectively by enabling us to tune into the power of intuitive thinking, saving us the time and effort we would otherwise spend on complicated analysis. It teaches us to rely on our innate human intelligence to find solutions or answers to even the most complex questions.

Intuition can be an extremely powerful tool in decision-making

All human beings possess something known as “intuition,” which is our brain’s ability to know or figure things out without using rational thought or extended analysis. More commonly referred to as a “gut feeling,” intuition is at work without us generally being aware of it.

Down the ages intuition has fascinated and intrigued not only medics and scientists but thinkers in the fields of philosophy, religion, and even art. So how does intuition play into our everyday life and how do we depend on it when we make decisions?

The truth is that, without realizing it, we use intuition in a wide variety of situations. Even in situations where we think that we are making a decision on the basis of careful analysis, we may actually be just using facts and analysis to support our intuition.

Interestingly, intuition can often prove to be a better method of judgment than regular analysis or research. This is because it leapfrogs over irrelevant and unnecessary information to focus on the key points of a problem. However, intuition does also have its fair share of drawbacks as it can often fall victim to preconceived opinions, prejudices, and biases. Nevertheless, if tapped into in the right way, intuition can be an extremely powerful tool that can help us make better decisions.

Intuition can be more effective than reasoned logic

When presented with the need to make a decision, the human brain relies on two common approaches. The first strategy is to carefully weigh up a situation using methods of research and analysis, going through all the facts and evaluating all the advantages and disadvantages in order to arrive at a final solution. Though, for many people, this has become their preferred method of making decisions, it is also, unfortunately, a very time-consuming one, and the time needed is not always available.

The second strategy is to make a “snap judgment.” A snap judgment is a decision made purely on intuition. The advantage of this method is that it is extremely fast – in fact, by its very nature it is immediate and instinctive. Whilst this might not sound like an ideal way of making decisions, the truth is that our brains possess a natural ability to instantly process complex information to arrive at possible solutions in a quick and effective manner. As people we tend to rely too much on carefully thought-out decisions, while underestimating the power of our intuition.

Quite often our intuition-based decisions can be more effective than reasoned ones. For instance, there are art experts who can spot errors in forgeries instinctively, without knowing immediately what has raised their suspicions. It is only later after careful study that they can discover the reason behind their gut feeling.

The point is that our brains can, at an unconscious level, identify irregularities or errors in a pattern. Our conscious mind then interprets this unconscious ability as intuition, which further influences our thoughts and decisions. Therefore, we must try to listen to our unconscious thoughts or intuitions at all times.

Expert intuition can sometimes even overturn scientific evidence

An incident involving the purchase of an ancient Greek sculpture provides an effective demonstration of the power of intuition. In 1983 the J. Paul Getty Museum was considering purchasing a life-sized, free-standing figure belonging to a type of sculpture known as Kouros. Being an extremely rare and ancient artefact, the museum carried out numerous scientific tests to ensure its authenticity. After 14 months of thorough testing and analysis, the Getty was satisfied that the statue was genuine and purchased it for the staggering price of $10 million.

However, on viewing the statue a number of experts and scholars instinctively sensed that something was amiss, causing them to question its authenticity. One of them – a former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Thomas Hoving – stated that the first word that came into his head after viewing the sculpture was “fresh” – an unusual word for an ancient artefact. Another – Angelos Delivorrias, Director of the Benaki Museum in Athens – stated that when he saw it, he immediately experienced a “wave of disgust.” The argument regarding the Kouros’ originality continued for a long time, but the experts eventually determined it to be a very convincing fake.

The experts in this example could not point to exactly what made them uneasy about the statue, but their unconscious brain acknowledged something that their conscious brain could not recognize. We can therefore see how accurate intuition can be when making judgments.

The unconscious mind focuses on only the vital, relevant information

Careful analysis is a good thing when identifying solutions to a problem. But a lot of time is wasted focusing on irrelevant details. It is much more efficient and effective to prioritize the various aspects of a problem, focusing only on the main facts and ignoring all the unimportant details.

The problem with examining every tiny detail is that it negatively impacts the accuracy of our judgment. The irrelevant information tends to distract our minds away from the most important aspects of a situation. For instance, if you are observing the relationship between two people and trying to figure out how they feel about one another, then it would make the most sense to study their facial expressions as they converse with each other. If you spend time looking at irrelevant factors such as the way they fold their hands or the way they stand, you might be wasting time observing unnecessary details. You might also end up missing their facial cues, which are a far more dependable indicator of their relationship.

In situations like these, our unconscious mind works towards removing irrelevant information and focusing only on the necessary information, thereby allowing us to make more accurate judgments. The unconscious mind therefore acts as a filter that removes unnecessary components to deliver a more refined perception of a situation.

Intuition-based judgments are more common than you think

A lot of the day-to-day decisions we make are snap judgments based on intuition. This is as true in our professional lives as it is as we go about our daily tasks. We are just unaware of how often we make them, because these decisions are processed in the unconscious part of the human brain.

If you were to ask a footballer player, for instance, what stimulated them to move around the pitch in a particular way during a game, they might attribute their successful plays to being at the right place at the right time. However, in reality their unconscious mind processes a lot of varied information that leads their conscious mind to occupy a favorable spot, enabling them to carry out their strategies successfully.

Humans are predisposed to only trust statistics and facts; but, paradoxically, it is only after we have made an intuitive judgment that we seek to back it up with facts and figures.

We can even see the role of intuition when it comes to finding a partner. Even though a person might have a list of characteristics that they would like to see in an ideal partner, they rarely end up with someone who matches that list. More often than not, our choice of partner ends up being an act of intuition, rather than something that is based on a considered list of qualities. However, after we’ve gone with our gut feeling we might attempt to modify our list to suit the characteristics displayed by our partner in order to prove that they are our perfect mate.

Unconscious associations can affect our judgment

The influence our unconscious mind exercises over the decisions that we make was clearly observed in a study that was conducted on a group of people playing the game Trivial Pursuit. The players were divided into two groups: one group was asked to think like professors and the other was asked to think like fanatical football fans. After the game had been played, it was observed that the players who had been asked to think like professors scored 10 percent more than the players who had been asked to think like football fans. This was because the players who thought like professors associated their thoughts with intelligence, while it was the exact opposite with the players who thought like football fans. Unconscious associations such as these can affect the way we think.

Unconscious association also exercises a powerful influence when it comes to our perceptions of people, and this is supported by research based on statistical analysis. So, to take one example, it seems that most of us associate success and power with tall, white men, and the statistics bear this out. Statistics indicate that it is easier for a white male to find success in his profession than his colleagues from other races. What’s more, an increase of even one inch in the white male’s height can earn him an observable increase in salary. This is probably why most senior positions in America are occupied by white men of good height.

A notable example of the detriment that can result from these kinds of unconscious stereotypes was seen when Warren Harding was elected as US President. People voted for him because he fit the image of a President. However, in reality, he did not possess any of the necessary skills and is, even today, considered one of the most ineffective incumbents of the office there has ever been.

Stress can negatively impact our judgment

Though it might sound strange, all humans possess a certain amount of “telepathic” abilities. Our telepathic strengths lie in our ability to determine a person’s mood by reading their facial expressions. The vast majority of us can tell if a person is sad, upset, or happy just by taking a look at their faces. This is a universal ability that is shared amongst the majority of humans, irrespective of race or gender.

However, there are individuals who do not possess this skill, and are incapable of picking up clues from a person’s facial expression. These people are referred to as “autistic.” They are therefore forced to rely on clearly communicated information instead of facial expressions to decipher the mood or thoughts of another person.

However, even people who are not autistic can suffer from what could be described as a kind of temporary autism as a result of stress and frustration. When we are stressed or pressured, we end up ignoring indirect signals and direct all our focus on the most obvious threat. This “tunnel-vision” approach can lead to dangerous scenarios with irreversible consequences. In an extreme situation police officers can sometimes jump to the wrong conclusion and end up shooting innocent victims based on false suspicion. For instance, a police officer might shoot a suspect who is reaching into their pocket under the assumption that they seem to be reaching for a weapon. In reality, the suspect might have been reaching for an ID to show the police officer.

To prevent yourself from having this kind of “mind-blindness,” you must eliminate stress from your surroundings or at least learn how to manage it. Stress can lead to illogical thoughts, which will ultimately result in bad decision-making.

Consumer behavior cannot always be determined accurately by market research

Market research is regarded as the be-all and end-all in deciding the success of a product. However, despite the considerable amount of time, effort, and money spent in determining how a product can achieve success in the market-place, it is not always possible to accurately predict consumer behavior.

A good example of this is the disastrous failure of the product launched by Coca Cola when over 15 consecutive years its share lead in the market slipped and its competitor Pepsi began to overtake it. To regain its former popularity, Coca Cola decided to change their traditional cola recipe and launched New Coke. The results of several rounds of taste tests indicated that the product was favorable for release into the market. Yet once the product was launched, it failed almost immediately.

In the post-mortem that followed, it became apparent that the taste tests had been carried out under the wrong conditions. For instance, tasters were asked to make their judgment based on just one single sip. In hindsight, it was discovered that more helpful feedback would have been garnered if the tasters had been allowed to explore the drink for a longer time. It was also realized that customers need to develop a comfort level with a product and this can only come through extended use in familiar environments. The unsuitable testing conditions in the New Coke taste test led to the wrong conclusions being made about the potential success of the product in the market.

To eliminate prejudice we must cultivate an open mind

To say that racial prejudice is pervasive even in this day and age might seem shocking. However, it is a statement that is based on scientific research. Using association tests, psychologists have determined that many Caucasian US citizens find it easier to associate positive human characteristics with the word “white” than the word “black.” Surprisingly, the same was also true among the African-American population. These studies unfortunately go to show how deeply ingrained racial prejudice is.

Psychologists reason that this sort of prejudice occurs because the unconscious mind learns through constant observation. US citizens have created positive unconscious associations with the color white because the country’s ruling class is dominated by white people. This is, unfortunately, a sad reality. But the most worrisome aspect is that this sort of racial prejudice still influences our thoughts and decisions. Many well-qualified job applicants might find it difficult to get a job just because they do not meet the appearance criteria of “tall” and “white.”

In order to cure ourselves of this affliction, we must learn to have an open mind. And an open mind can only come through regularly interacting with people from multiple backgrounds, and opening up our lives to fresh experiences as often as possible.

To make good, unprejudiced decisions we need to ignore irrelevant information

In order to arrive at the good judgments we desire to make, we must free ourselves from the various negative associations that we have built up in our minds. The orchestral world provides an excellent example of how this can be done.

It used to be the popular belief that only men were capable of becoming professional concert musicians. No matter how musically gifted a woman was, due to the strong gender prejudice that existed at that time it was impossible for her to even seek a career in classical music. Eventually, however, when conducting interviews, orchestras began to implement the use of screens so that the assessor did not know whether the auditioning participant was male or female, ensuring that their judgment was purely made on the basis of performance and not on gender. In conditions of anonymity, merit won out over prejudice and diversity in orchestras rapidly began to increase as women and musicians from ethnic minorities joined their ranks.

In a similar way, we can change our perceptions and pre-formed ideas about other people, cultures, lifestyles, or places just by ignoring irrelevant information we know about them and focusing only on what is needed to make the judgment.

Final summary

We have all been in situations where we have experienced a strong gut feeling, knowing in the “blink” of an eye what the right way forward was for us. This is intuition at work; an innate, unconscious power which is able to cut through irrelevant data and identify the core issue, and thus enable us to make a speedy decision about the right course of action. In Blink Malcolm Gladwell’s aim is to help us tap into this powerful mental tool by encouraging us to learn how to listen to our unconscious thoughts and feelings, which are often picking up on aspects of a situation that our conscious mind overlooks. These intuition-based judgments, he suggests, are often more effective than our carefully analyzed decisions. As well as being effective in our personal lives, Malcolm Gladwell argues that intuition can also have an impact in business and commercial environments.

Malcolm Gladwell illustrates his premise through a number of powerful anecdotes and general observations about life, which illustrate that when individuals act on their intuition they are able to arrive at good decisions and can even spot inconsistencies and anomalies which are indiscernible to the rational mind. He does, however, also point out some of the pitfalls of intuitive thinking. Since our thinking can be clouded by stereotypes or powerful associations, it is important for us to cultivate an open mind through exposing ourselves to new people and situations from diverse cultures and backgrounds. We also need to be aware that stress can damage our intuitive abilities and so we need to eliminate it or at the very least learn to manage it in order to mitigate its effects.

Now read the book

In Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell shows us how we can tap into the hidden power of our mind. We learn that great decision-making does not solely come from research or analysis, but by becoming more aware of the brain’s innate potential.

By reading the book we can learn how to fine-tune our power of intuitive thinking – in particular, by mastering the simple technique of thin-slicing. This will help us to begin to rely on our innate intelligence to find solutions rather than always having to spend long periods of time in careful analysis, which can be both emotionally and physically draining. Malcolm Gladwell communicates his ideas using simple but powerful anecdotes, making the book both informative and enormously enjoyable to read.

We are already making decisions and judgments based on our intuition: reading Blink will help us to develop this ability further. It will also heighten our awareness of certain negative aspects of intuitive thinking and help us to free ourselves from these unhelpful associations.

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