The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

“Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”

“The difference between good decision-making and bad has less to do with how much information we take in and process than with our ability to focus on only a few particular details.”

Number eight on my voyage to read 52 books in 52 weeks is Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Sounds like a contradictory title, doesn’t it?  It’s not.  What Gladwell discusses in his #1 National Bestseller is what happens in the brain, in our thoughts, during the first two seconds of a situation. He prefers to use the term “unconscious.”  To avoid negative connotation and any confusion with the Freudian subconscious, I believe the term “implicit” would be better.

Blink is about implicit knowledge and associations that affect the way we process items and situations before we begin to consciously think about them.  What we do with these implicit reflexes is critical to daily decision-making.

Studying psychology as an undergrad., this was one of my favorite areas of research, so Blink was a marvelous read for me.  But this book is not intended for me. The New Yorker journalist does well to address a much broader audience than those who’ve explicitly studied neuroscience and psychology.  Thus, the #1 National Bestseller.

Gladwell uses wonderfully told stories and anecdotes to explain how our minds quickly process information by associating or comparing what is in front of us with prior experiences.  This is what, for example, allows expert historians to spot a fake artifact, or social relations experts to know which married couples will still be together in 15 years, within the blink of an eye.  It’s incredible.

It’s not that you should always go with your “gut” reaction.  We’re still capable of misperceptions.  But learning why we have those “gut” reactions helps us to make better decisions.  What good is being better informed if we only get lost in the sea of information? A goal of this book is to help the reader see that sometimes less is more.  Another goal is to help the reader utilize these phenomena to aid their own decision-making.

In college, for my senior thesis, I wrote about what happens in the brain and body when lying, determining if someone is lying, and how that plays out in our corrupt society.  A key component in my research had to do with very small facial expressions, called microexpressions, that elude to a particular response or mental status.  One thing I loved about Blink was Gladwell’s intertwining of research by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen on facial microexpressions – research that was pivotal in my senior thesis.  It’s amazing what can be known when one knows what to look for.

Reading this book will help you understand daily actions and reactions you and others have – like how easy it is for a police officer to make a mistake in a high-intensity situation, or why you have a bad feeling about the man passing you on the street, or why you like some of the things you like.  It’s all very interesting.

On top of that, it’s a very enjoyable and relaxing read – similar to a novel.  Blink is a captivating introduction to a realm many are unfamiliar with.  I highly recommend.


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Kenneth D. Burke


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