Book notes: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell book summary review and key ideas.

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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Synopsis:

The landmark book that has revolutionized the way we understand leadership and decision making – from number-one best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell.

In his landmark best seller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell redefined how we understand the world around us. Now, in Blink, he revolutionizes the way we understand the world within. Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant, in the blink of an eye, that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work, in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others? 

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple; the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of “blink”: the election of Warren Harding; “New Coke”; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of “thin-slicing”, filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables. 

Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology and displaying all of the brilliance that made The Tipping Point a classic, Blink changes the way you understand every decision you make. Never again will you think about thinking the same way.” -Audible


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Opening thoughts:

I’ve read several of Malcolm’s books and they’re always a thought-provoking and interesting read. I think the last book I read called Talking to Strangers was a bit underwhelming and I kept thinking by the end what’s the point. Although he has a very captivating writing style and narration, sometimes I’m a bit underwhelmed by the Kan and it seems a little fluffed at times. This one has good reviews so I’m hoping it’ll be worth the listen 


Key notes:

  • Blink is a book about how experts on statues could tell imposter fake statue in only two seconds compared to 14 months of research by legal experts
Section 1: Fast and Frugal
  • The Iowa card experiments tells us that our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation
    • The first is the one we are most familiar with, the conscious strategy
      • We think about what we’ve learned and and eventually we come up with an answer
      • This strategy is logical and definitive, but it takes us longer to get there
    • The unconscious strategy works much faster but underneath the surface and send it to messages through weirdly indirect channels like sweat glands in our palms and where our brain reaches conclusions without merely telling us it has
Section 2: The Internal Computer
  • The part of our brain that leads to conclusions like this is called the adaptive unconscious
    • It’s a giant computer that quickly and quietly processes a lot of the data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings
    • This allows us to make really quick decisions based on very little information

Reader’s note: Is this entire book based on the subconscious brain / the “crocodile” brain? If so, this is a topic that’s covered in a bunch of other books. On the top of my head I can remember, Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff, Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson, and pretty much every book on psychology and influence.

  • The first task of this book is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately
    • He’s also interested in the times when our instincts betray us
    • Our unconscious is a powerful force, but it is fallible
Section 3: A Different and Better World

Chapter 1: Theory of thin slices – How a little bit of knowledge goes along way

Section 1: The Love Lab
  • Thin slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience
  • For a marriage to survive, the ratio of positive to negative emotion in a given encounter aas to be at least 5 to 1.
  • A relationship between two people has a “fist” or a distinctive signature that arises naturally and automatically
    • That is why a marriage can be read and decoded so easily. It has an identifiable and stable pattern
Section 3: The Importance of Contempt
  • The four horsemen that can indicate a dying relationship:
    • Defensiveness
    • Stonewalling
    • Criticism
    • Contempt
      • Within the four horsemen, contempt is the most important emotion of all
      • Contempt is speaking from a superior plane which is more damaging than criticism
        • It is any statement made from a higher level, oftentimes it is an insult. It is hierarchical
      • The presence of contempt in a marriage even can predict health
        • Having someone you love express contempt towards you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system
Section 4: The Secrets of the Bedroom
  • Reference to the Big Five personality traits
  • You can learn as much or more from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public space
    • When you don’t meet someone face-to-face, you don’t get all the confusing and irrelevant details such as how looks can lead to generalizations, or how subjective someone is when describing them selves or talking in person
Section 5: Listening to Doctors
  • A medical malpractice lawyer says that people just don’t sue doctors they like
    • Typically it is because of poor care and bedside manner, not simply because of a medical mistake 
  • You need to understand the relationship between a doctor and his or her patients to predict the likelihood of them being sued
  • In the end it comes down to respect
    • The simplest way respect is communicated is through tone of voice
    • The most corrosive tone of voice the doctor can assume is a dominant one
Section 6: The Power of the Glance

Chapter 2: the locked door. The secret life of snap decisions

  • We need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments
    • We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that sometimes we are better off that way
Section 1: Primed for Action

Reader’s note: Here he’s talking about the power of the priming affect and how priming people with certain words and ideas can significantly affect how they behave and perform

  • The results of these experiments suggest that what we think of free will is largely an illusion
    • Much of the time we are simply operating on automatic pilot and the way we think and act and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize
  • Sometimes we are better off if the mind behind the locked door makes our decisions for us
Section 2: The Storytelling Problem
  • We have as human beings, a storytelling problem
    • We are a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for 
  • We learn by example and direct experience because there are limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction
    • But other times we don’t always respect the mysteries of the locked door and he dangers of the storytelling problem

Chapter 3: the warren Harding error – Why we fall for tall, dark, and handsome men

  • Warren Harding was one of the worst presidents in American history
    • He was originally chosen because of his good looks, not his qualifications
Section 1: The Dark Side of Thin Slicing

Reader’s note: He’s basically saying that our rapid processing subconscious is powerful and can be very beneficial, but it is also very fallible and can lead us astray. Great. Thanks Malcolm. You’re such an insightful and helpful dude. 😑

Section 2: Blink in Black-and-White
  • One study showed that tall people on average over the lifetime of the career make hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their career
Section 3: Taking Care of the Customer
  • A top car salesman’s advice: take care of the customer and never pre-judge anyone
Section 4: Spotting the Sucker
Section 5: Think About Dr. King
  • We can change our first impressions and alter the way we thin slice by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions

Chapter 4: Paul Van riper’s big victory – Creating structure for spontaneity

Section 1: One Morning in the Gulf 
Section 2: The Structure of Spontaneity
  • Spontaneity isn’t random. Improv comedy is a perfect example
    • How good people’s decisions are under the fast moving, high stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal
  • In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action
    • All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very gifted improvisers
      • Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill
      • Good improvisers develop action
Section 3: The Perils of Introspection
  • Example of how a fire fighter chief thin-sliced a weird situation of a hidden basement fire and got his men out of danger instinctively without consciously thinking about it but solely off of intuition
Section 4: A Crisis in the ER
  • The Cook County experiment led to the creation of the Goldman algorithm and the heart attack decision tree, which dramatically improved diagnosis for heart attacks from chest pain
Section 5: When Less is More
  • To be a successful decision maker, we have to edit
    • When we thin slice, when we recognize patterns and make snap judgments, we do this process of editing unconsciously
  • When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision making, neither is good or bad
    • What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance
Section 6: Millennium Challenge Part Two

Chapter 5: Kenna’s dilemma – The Right and wrong way to ask people what they want

Section 1: A Second Look at First Impressions
Section 2: Pepsi’s Challenge
  • The story of Coca-Cola inventing New Coke as a superior tasting alternative to Pepsi shows that even despite the data, people don’t know what people truly want
Section 3: The Blind Leading the Blind
  • A blind taste test and thin slicing music aren’t always accurate to the success of a product or brand because more factors come into play than a quick exposure to something
Section 4: The Chair of Death
  • The new and different is always vulnerable to market research
Section 5: The Gift of Expertise
Section 6: It Sucks What the Record Companies Are Doing To You

Chapter 6: 7 seconds in the Bronx – A delicate part of mind reading

Section 1: Three Fatal Mistakes
  • Perhaps the most common and important forms of rapid cognition are the judgments we make and impressions we form of other people
Section 2: the theory of mind reading
Section 3: The Naked Face
  • The information on her face is not just a signal of what is going on inside our mind
    • In a certain sense, it is what is going on inside our minds
  • Studies show that enacting certain facial expressions will subsequently trigger the same physiological response and you feel that actual emotion, whether it be sad, happy, stress, angry, etc.
  • Our voluntary expressive system is the way we intentionally signal our emotions
    • But our involuntary expressive system is in many ways even more important
    • It is the way we have been equipped by evolution to signal our authentic feelings
  • We all have the capacity to thin slice and mind read effortlessly and automatically because the clues we need to make sense of someone or some social situation right there on the faces of those in front of us

Reader’s note: This reminds me of the discussion he talks about in Talking to Strangers, his other book. He discussed at length micro-expressions and how it is hard to generally read and understand other people.

Section 4: A Man, A Woman, and A Light Switch
  • The condition of autism is an example of a person who has lost the ability to mind read
    • They have difficulty interpreting nonverbal cues, or putting themselves in someone else’s head, or drawing understanding from anything other than the literal meaning of words
Section 5: Arguing with a Dog 
  • Studies of officers involved in shootings show how the human body reacts to stress
    • Physical responses: extreme visual clarity, tunnel vision, diminished sound, and the sense that time is slowing down
    • Our mind, faced with a life-threatening situation, drastically limits the range and amount of information that we have to deal with
      • Sound, memory, and broader social understanding are sacrificed in favor of heightened awareness of the threat directly in front of us
    • However, there is an optimal range of arousal in which we perform better (between 115-145 bpm)
    • Past a certain point, our bodies begin shutting down so many sources of information that we start to become useless
    • After 145 bpm, bad things start to happen. Complex motor skills start to break down
    • After 175, we begin to see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing
      • The forebrain shuts down and the midbrain hijacks it
      • Trying to have a discussion with a frightened or angry human being is impossible, it’s like trying to argue with your dog
Section 6: Running Out of White Space
  • When we make a split second decision, we are really vulnerable to be guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe
  • One-man police cars are much safer and result in far less problems than two-men cars
    • When police officers are by themselves, they slow things down and make better decisions
    • When they are with someone else, they speed things up and act with more bravado
      • All cops want two man cars, but one man cars get into less trouble because they make an approach that is entirely different
      • He doesn’t charge in, less prone to ambush, he waits for the other cops to arrive, he acts more kindly and allows more time
  • For police officers, speeding things up can increase the risk of momentary autism
  • If you have to rely on reflexes, someone is going to get hurt unnecessarily
    • If you take advantage of intelligence and cover, you will almost never have to make an instinctive decision
Section 7: Something in My Mind Just Told Me I Didn’t Have to Shoot Yet
  • The best personal security training systems train their people to slow the heart rate and function properly in stressful situations
  • Mind reading is an ability that improves with practice
Section 8: Tragedy on Wheeler Avenue

Conclusion: listening with your eyes

Section 1: A Revolution in Classical Music
  • The revolutions in the classical music industry started when unions pushed for changes that resulted in unbiased auditions and stronger protections and benefits for musicians
    • This resulted in a five fold increase of women in the industry and broke down the long-held, systemic prejudice against them
  • What the classical music world realized was what they had thought was a pure and powerful first impression, listening to someone play, was in fact hopelessly corrupted
  • With music, the only proper way to make a snap judgment is from behind a screen because someone’s outer appearance can influence your judgment 
Section 2: A Small Miracle
  • The second lesson of Blink is that if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition
    • We can prevent people in these situations from making mistakes

Closing thoughts:

I thought this was a very insightful read! Like all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, it really makes you question what you think you know about a certain topic. It challenges you to open your mind to how you think things work versus how they actually work.

I felt like many of the points he covered about social interactions was also covered in Talking to Strangers. But I think if I read the books in order, I would have noticed the references to this book. Essentially, the messaging is consistent in terms of how our conditioning and prejudices color our reactions to people. This book was heavily focused on our gut reactions / intuition, and how in certain contexts, they can be very powerful. However, in other situations, they can be very unreliable.

Overall, recommend for anyone interested in the psychology of snap judgements and intuition, and how to leverage them in the right context. It also covers pitfalls to avoid and when not to rely on your intuition. Also recommend if you like reading books that make you think and open up your mind to something contrary to what you may have led to believe most of your life.

Executive Summary:

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These include:

  • 1-2 line quick summary
  • Categories & themes
  • Best quotes
  • Most important key ideas
  • Action items & main takeaways


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

A handful of good takeaways from this book. My one takeaway that I’d like to practice is:

  • Understand and utilize analytic vs. intuitive decision making in the correct circumstances

I think it’s important to know when to slow down in stressful situations in order to allow yourself to make better decisions. At the same time, it’s beneficial to identify when to trust your gut feelings and intuition. As Malcolm says, it can be a very powerful tool to leverage in the right situations.


Nutshell:

Blink explores how our rapid processing subconscious, aka “thin-slicing” or intuition, works. While it can be very beneficial in certain contexts, it can also be very unreliable and dangerous in others.


Similar books:


Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

3.5/5

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