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Malcolm Gladwell has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1996. He is the author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. Prior to joining The New Yorker, he was a reporter at the Washington Post. Gladwell was born in England and grew up in rural Ontario. He now lives in New York.
Well, as a huge fan of Gladwell's last book, The Tipping Point, I was excited last week to finally get my hands on his new effort: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This time around Gladwell's basic thesis is that often snap judgements (what he calls "thin slicing") can be more accurate than well researched, careful analysis. Gladwell uses many examples (most are interesting) to demonstrate this behavior such as determining when art is faked, sizing up car buyers, picking presidential candidates and determining the characteristics of a person by observing their living space. This has always been Gladwell's talent: taking just-under-the-radar topics and bringing them into the public's view through great journalism and storytelling.
Gladwell is also careful to examine the flipside of this phenomenon: the times when "thin slicing" misleads us or gives us the wrong results. For instance, he presents examples where the mind works based on biases that don't necessarily enter the realm of conscious thought, but are nevertheless there (age, race, height, and so on).
It's a great topic and Gladwell sets it up with some wonderful examples, but then the book begins to have problems. First, the book is a little too anecdotal. Anyone who has ever had a 200-level psych class knows that what looks like cause and effect may be accounted for by an independent variable that wasn't considered (e.g., concluding cancer rates are higher in some area of the country because of pollution, when in fact the area has higher smoking rates as well). Given this, I found that too often conclusions are made on basic handwaving, or that important aspects of studies are not mentioned.Read more ›
The mistake was too try and get all of these wild animals onto the same boat. The book a series of semi-socio-scientific articles on insight and intuition. It is not a cohesive theory.
The writing is enjoyable - I read the most of it in a single plane flight. Some of the insights provide building blocks for understanding how certain professionals (people who practice a subject or skill for many years) are able to develop an additional sense about things -- gamblers, art curators, policemen. They are essentially seeing something that doesn't register at the conscious-level but provides them a gut-feel about the thing. Actually, I should say that these articles are how this MIGHT be happening - it's more speculation based on the diverse theories of a number of different researchers. Individually the stories and ideas are believable. Unfortuately, Gladwell fumbles in trying take them into some unified theory that is comprehensible let alone cohesive -- at times you wonder "where is he going with this?". Without that thread the indivudal beads get lost and fade into memory as clever ideas...and not much more. Without confidence in the grand idea, the individual pieces begin to feel simply exploratory. It's a shame because there are some remarkable ideas. He's a good documenter of curiousities of research (sort of like a Ken Burns is to historical things) so the storytelling is good enough for entertainment. Another reviewer likened it the addage about Chinese food, tasty but hungry an hour later. I agree. Flawed but still some interesting ideas to puzzle over.
I am a great admirer of Malcolm Gladwell's writing, having read him for years in "The New Yorker" and loving "The Tipping Point," his earlier book. But "Blink" is no "Tipping Point."
The idea here is that people often have intuitive first impressions that are more valid and valuable than carefully considered, well-thought-out, researched conclusions. Except when they aren't, because first impressions of individuals, for example, can be clouded by (and Gladwell even discusses this) such matters as attractiveness, gender, race -- and even height (what Gladwell calls the "Warren Harding" error). And how are we to know when our quick-as-a-blink reaction is valid and when it isn't? Well, that's the problem with the book. Ever experienced love-at-first-sight and then realized the person wasn't really everything you thought s/he was...?
This entire book flies in the face of an excellent article Gladwell wrote in 2000 called "The New-Boy Network" [...] about how worthless the typical job interview is (because it relies too much on gut impressions) and how "structured interviews" are the only worthwhile ones (an excerpt from the article: "This interviewing technique is known as "structured interviewing," and in studies by industrial psychologists it has been shown to be the only kind of interviewing that has any success at all in predicting performance in the workplace. In the structured interviews, the format is fairly rigid. Each applicant is treated in precisely the same manner. The questions are scripted. The interviewers are carefully trained, and each applicant is rated on a series of predetermined scales.")
Even examples he uses in this book are not very on-target, such as the Red/Blue military exercise he spends a considerable amount of time discussing.Read more ›