““The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” – Malcolm Gladwell
Lessons learnt: First impressions are real. It is regulated by our “adaptive unconscious”, it relies on our knowledge, manifests very fast and without conscious awareness. Although in some way quantifiable, intuitions are difficult to explain rationally. Intuition is built on / is a manifestation of your prior experiences.
In 1986 the J. Paul Getty Museum in California was presented with an intact and very much beautiful ancient Greek statue (a ‘kouros’) for purchase. The art historians thoroughly examined the statue and after a period the museum acquired the statue. Everyone loved it, it looked magnificent and was one of the few in such great condition. Then a member of the board came to see the statue, she immediately knew something was wrong. She could not pinpoint what exactly (after all, the tests said it was authentic). Others followed suit and a second investigation was started. They found out that they had lost $10 million on a fake.
This is how Blink by Malcolm Gladwell commences. It beautifully describes his power to use stories to make scientific explorations come to life. Blink is (of course) not about art history, but about intuition: our two-second judgment or gut feeling we immediately have. In this entertaining book, Gladwell takes the reader on a journey through the science behind intuition. He uses examples about marriage, choking on the golf course and military manoeuvres. Intuition, the power of thinking without thinking, is examined and conceptualized as the “thin slices” of behaviour.
“Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” – Malcolm Gladwell
One of the first chapters is about doctors and how many times they get sued (in America). Gladwell proposes a question to the readers about what the cause of the number of lawsuits would be. I here propose roughly the same question to you – Which of these two causes would more strongly influence if a doctor would be sued?
- The knowledge of their field and subsequent amount of mistakes (malpractices) they made
- How the doctors talked to their patients
You would be surprised to find that 2. is the right answer. Much more important was the way the doctors treated their patients than how many actual mistakes they made. Gladwell explains this as follows: doctors are not sued because of their errors, they are sued because of their errors and then something. This something is how they are perceived by their patients. If someone felt that the doctor cared for them, that he or she made an honest mistake, nothing would happen. But if the doctors showed no personal interest in their patients, virtually every mistake would end up in court. In the final paragraph the reader is suggested to listen to that gut feeling and if alarm bells ring, find a new doctor.
From these “thin slices,” the book progresses to other areas of our instincts. In great detail, our snap decisions are examined and analyzed. Further on in the book, this is also related to decision making. In yet another great story the reader gets to experience the “War Games” and learns how one General ends up winning, whilst acting for the outgunned and outmanned ‘bad guys’ (which is not suppose to happen). This chapter illustrates how intuition is related to leadership. Leaders have to make decisions based on incomplete information, to make the right choice your gut feeling should be consulted.
Later chapters speak about the errors of thinking fast. Two of these examples are very striking (and worrying). The first is about the “Warren Harding Error”, how America chose the wrong president. It states that people make their big voting decisions not on who has the best policy or ideas for their country, but that they base it (solely) on appearance (of the president-to-be). The second is about discrimination, how we quickly judge minorities less favourably. Using very fast displays on a monitor, good and bad words and timing of how quickly a person will associate with either kind of word, research has found that people will connect minorities with negative words more quickly. It is something that even people from the minority themselves do and it is very difficult to overcome, but it is caused and anchored in this instinctive thinking.
Critics of Malcolm Gladwell have pointed out that critical thinking too is very important in making the right decisions and that thinking fast is not the solution to all problems. In my opinion, Gladwell is aware of this, yet does not really put too much focus on this. In the end, Blink makes for a great book to read.
More on Blink
http://gladwell.com/blink/– The Official Website
http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=12908 – More on the kouros