Blink - The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Are you an incompetent doctor or surgeon? Spend time listening to your patients and you will be less likely to get sued than the incompetent medical professionals who talk at their patients If you need to pick someone out from the suspects in a police line up, don't try to describe that person before you recognise them - because that will leave you less likely to know them again. In other words, don't try - just recognise!
And get this. In one study cited in Malcolm Gladwell's amazing and fascinating book, groups of students were given 42 fairly demanding questions from Trivial Pursuits. Half were asked to take five minutes beforehand to think about what it would mean to be a professor and write down every thing that comes to mind. Those students got 55.6% of the questions right.
The other half of the students were asked to first sit and think about soccer hooligans before completing the questions. They scored an average of 42.6 percent. The 'professor' group weren't brainier or better educated than the 'hooligan' group, but they were in a 'smart frame of mind' from pondering the smartness of professorship. The difference in the scores can mean the difference between passing and failing!
What do you surround yourself with? Are your walls weighed down with gothic pictures and do you constantly listen to country and western and Carol Carpenter whilst watching violent nihilistic movies? It might be time to think about the frames you program your mind with! (My words not Gladwell's.)
In another fascinating study it was found young people exposed to a hidden pattern of age related words - such as grey, bingo, frail, slow - then walked out of the test room much more slowly than their youthfulness would have predicted and, indeed, much more slowly than equally youthful people not exposed to these hidden words. They had no conscious awareness of the 'elderly' pattern, but their behaviour changed and they acted older. Surround your self with a 'type' of person and you will be affected by that type regardless of how independent you believe yourself to be.
Doctors and therapists need to be aware that the words they choose to weight their narratives with can have profound impact. Telling someone they are going to live may make them much livelier than telling them they are not going to die!
Gladwell tells us what we already knew but didn't know why we knew and to what extent. First impressions can be so much more reliable than immersing ourselves in data and then trying to figure out the truth. This may seem counter-intuitive. The point is that, if you have studied and absorbed relevant patterns, then your first impressions may be more accurate when you have less information to go on, because paying too much attention to the detail of facts and figures can, in certain contexts, obscure accurate and direct perception.
So, for example, focussing on a small amount of information about a patient has been found to be a better guide to whether they are having a heart attack than trying to assess a lot of detailed information about their condition. This is not some new age insight but is the result of long research, studies and anecdotes, all of which Gladwell relates with gusto and relish.
He tells the story of the Vietnam veteran who outwitted the computational might of the Pentagon by knowing less and relying on his immediate 'ex-tinct' (his response to the patterns he observed in the environment) that had been chiselled and honed in the field where not playing by the rules made you a survivor.
A marriage expert can 'thin slice' (take one part of a pattern and instantly understand the whole pattern of a situation) and know by listening to a couple discussing something important to them whether they are destined for break-up or not. Margarine tastes better when it is coloured yellow (not white as it was originally) and ice cream tastes better from a round container than a rectangular one! We give 'reasons' and rationalisations for our behaviours, but how much do we know about why we do what we do? Split-second perceptions and decisions may be right or they may be wrong - a fireman gets his men to leave a burning building seconds before the floor caves in; a tennis coach with years of experience finds he can predict with almost 100% accuracy when a tennis pro is about to double fault! When you know a lot you don't have to think a lot, you just know, and that kind of knowing can instantly ascend from a launch pad built by long years of learning, observation and experience.
We are reminded how instant summation can also work against us - as when someone's appearance (particularly the height and physical appearance of US presidents) can lead us to assume things about them that just ain't so. He explains those moments of 'mind reading' as a function of unconscious perception telling us the mood or even plans of others without letting our conscious minds in on the secret of how we know.
In a world of swamping information you can learn to trust your instincts and sometimes trying to explain your decision can make it less clear. Never before has there been so much information, but are people wiser? Read this book. It's great fun and is a light and heavy book in the best sense of both the words!
Review by Mark Tyrrell
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