Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Written by Malcolm Gladwell. Published by Little, Brown and Company

Great journalists turn current events and new research into compelling, evocative stories. Malcolm Gladwell is one of those journalists. In his groundbreaking book The Tipping Point, he examined the ways little things can grow to create a huge impact. In his recent book Blink, he follows a similar line of thinking, but reverses his focus. Instead of looking at the wide world and the giant effects of social epidemics as he did in The Tipping Point, he has turned his attention and storytelling skills to the inner, personal world of snap decision making and spontaneous understanding in his book Blink.

Blink demonstrates how amazing our brains truly are and how quickly they can work with only a tiny bit of information. In the Blink of an eye, we are often capable of "thin-slicing" a moment in time to find out exactly what we need to know to make a decision. Gladwell writes that thin-slicing is "the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience." He explains that thin-slicing can often give us better answers to questions than much more exhaustive analysis. Gladwell explores this fascinating concept from a variety of angles while describing some of the most intriguing neuroscience and social studies done in recent years. His research into the phenomenon of instant understanding reveals an amazing array of new insights into ourselves and the ways our brains work.

For example, Gladwell describes the first impressions of several art experts who were shown a statue purported to be a rare relic from ancient Greece. After being vetted by several scientists and art specialists at the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, a handful of outside experts was brought in. Noting their first impressions, many of them had instant gut reactions that told them the statue of the naked boy was a fake, despite much evidence to the contrary. These experts felt that the statue was a forgery in the first moments they laid eyes on it. Further exploration by the museum corroborated the initial feelings of these experts. Millions of dollars were saved. This is the type of valuable rapid cognition that Gladwell illustrates throughout Blink.

By exploring the elements that make up our abilities to read situations, as well as peopleís faces, actions and intentions, Gladwell offers readers a vast smorgasbord of food for thought. He tells many compelling stories from a variety of fields where rapid cognition plays a deep role in outcomes, including cognitive research, the music industry, gambling, coaching, and police work. Gladwell describes the crucial mental processes that often get overlooked in a world that puts great value in the time-consuming task of mulling things over.

Through true tales taken from newspaper headlines, as well as those he has dug up from the cutting edge of brain research, Gladwell offers eye-opening insights into ways we can make better predictions and avoid fatal snap judgments. When four New York City police officers shot an unarmed immigrant with 41 bullets on a dark February night in 1999, their thin-slicing skills went horribly wrong. By examining the cognitive mistakes that caused the death of Amadou Diallo, Gladwell also shows us how rapid cognition can lead to tragedy.

In Blink, Gladwell paints colorful pictures of life that show us many smart ways we can better inform our rapid cognition, as well as ways we can overcome the internal programming that sometimes fouls us up.

Reviewed by Chris Lauer, senior editor, SEBS