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710 of 755 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't make a snap judgement buying this book, February 24, 2005
This review is from: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Hardcover)
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. For instance, Gladwell describes a study were observers are asked to determine certain characteristics (such as truthfulness, consciensciousness, etc.) of students by observing their dorm rooms; but, never does he mention how exactly one would determine these characteristics of individuals in a scientific manner for comparison. Such omissions leave the reader a little less than convinced.

Nevertheless, even with this flaw the first third of the book supports the thesis and makes for the usual entertaining reading; but things derail from there. The examples start to seem more peripheral: a rogue commander beating the conventional forces in a war game exercise, an artist known as Kenna who apparently should have made it big but didn't (why this example is interesting I've yet to figure out), and some rehash about coke vs pepsi from one of his older articles.

By the end of the book the whole thing derails into examples that just don't seem appropriate for the topic. Sure a study of why Pepsi always does better than Coke in blind tastes tests is interesting (and you can read his article on this without buying the book on Gladwell's web site), but does a study of "sips" vs "whole-can drinking" - people prefer sweet for sips (Pepsi) - really say something about unconscious rapid cognition?

One of Gladwell's greatest strengths is in recognizing interesting things, and then bringing them into conscious awareness so we actually realize these things are happening (whether it be tipping points or rapid cognition). I think he's partly achieved that in this book, but it doesn't come together the way the Tipping Point does. One gets the idea that this topic may have been better handled in an article rather than a full blown book.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 5, 2009 11:49:41 AM PST
I agree! As an engineer, solving problems is my life's work. An important discovery (of mine) about problem solving was that if we are truly solving the problem we converge to a solution through a number of steps of trying a solution, discarding it, and trying again. When we grab a solution and it works, it usually means we solved that problem in the past and attempt to make the solution fit the new problem. Blink seems to take the few cases when the snap judgement works. Wonder if the inverse, wrong smap judgements, is documented anywhere?

Posted on Mar 30, 2009 6:30:57 AM PDT
rjd1959 says:
This was insightful commentary though I don't necessarily agree with the author of this review. What the author calls anecdotal others would call evidence. My bias is that it vascillates somewhere in between.

Posted on May 1, 2009 1:15:52 PM PDT
Sorry, but I disagree with this review. I found Gladwell's insights, gained from the application of his hypotheses to poorly understood problems, to be incredibly interesting. The point of the dorm room study was that in just 15 minutes, people who had never met the inhabitants of those rooms, could predict their conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to new experiences more accurately than their closest friends! Who cares how you would measure those traits scientifically? The study makes a strong case for the value of rapid cognition. Whether or not we understand how it works, it just does.

Can a rogue commander, Kenna and Pepsi teach us something about unconscious rapid cognition? Yes! Were you even paying attention? The rogue commander example demonstrates how information overload kills our ability to let the unconscious mind speak and teaches us that the best way to succeed in rapid cognition is to stop trying. That is why the commander did not call his forces in the midst of gunfire. It's also why the harder you try to think of a word that's escaping you, the harder it is to remember it (and it eventually comes to you when you're not thinking about it). It teaches us about the corrosive effect too much information has on our initial, thin-slice based impressions. Information and training is crucial in preparation for battle, but the best way to let it work during the gunfire is to stop thinking.

Kenna illustrates the point that people are unable to explain their own unconscious reasoning, and when asked to, will give completely unrelated reasons. This is why any test that wants to measure people's unconscious rationale by direct questioning will fail. This is what the marketing companies did. It is also an example of the value of context for thin slicing. People who saw Kenna in person loved him, but marketing testers didn't. Why? Because they lacked the context of his live performances. The point isn't that Kenna ought to be famous. It's the disparity in reaction between all the audiences that saw him live, and those that rated him by phone. It tells us that without context, thin-slicing fails.

Likewise, the Coke/Pepsi sip test was out of context. It did not measure the product the way a customer uses it, because people don't buy a drink for one sip and it did not measure the whole reason why a customer buys it, which is largely because of the brand and packaging. Gladwell goes on to discuss a study where consumers felt the same product tasted differently based on their perceptions of the brand. It demonstrates how rapid cognition affects our senses even at the biological level, and how Coke failed to account for this by testing blind.

These examples do not "derail" his reasoning at all. Quite to the contrary, they are brilliant and insightful lessons on rapid cognition.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 22, 2009 4:04:53 PM PDT
saa says:
"Who cares how you would measure those traits scientifically?" To say that the people who never met the occupants of the rooms were more accurate than their closest friends, you would have to have some way to measure the traits to demonstrate "accuracy."

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 10, 2009 12:48:37 AM PDT
Joomi Lee says:
I really liked all three of his books and give them 4 out of 5 stars. I've heard Kenna but have never seen him live. His album performance leaves something to be desired. I think his music is merely OK and I happen to really like U2 too. Interestingly enough, according to Pandora Music, Kenna's label didn't know how to market him, which is why his album didn't get pushed. This story is different from Malcolm's account in the book. I can't add anything other people haven't already stated other than to add that the sole profanity did bother me, as I'm sensitive to obscenities. I know some other people will want to take this into consideration before reading this book.

Posted on Jul 12, 2009 5:49:49 PM PDT
Burgmicester says:
I agree with your premise entirely. As a ex-microbiologist, I found nothing in this book that would hold any water at all scientifically. While it is interesting how some people think "differently" like the Red Team Commander, and he does better without more information, it is equally possible that his management style does not require the additional information. Because of all of his experience and reading and war gaming in his own mind, he can see through the extra layers. This is nothing new, it's why professional athletes practice over and over and over again. So that when you come into contact with that situation, you are ready for it. It has nothing to do with a subconcious line of thought, it's merely a normal line of reasoning that is well run in the brain making it quicker when needed. Your review is more in depth than mine, but similar in thought.

Posted on Aug 16, 2009 6:10:16 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2009 6:12:07 PM PDT
leigh ann u says:
I agree with your review. I liked the books topic, although it is not "revolutionary" as the book seems to suggest. In fact, the premise has long been known among scientist and many lay people , but the author simply gives new names to old concepts ie "thin slicing". Like you, I was disappointed with the anecdotes and studies, for the exact same reasons you mentioned....independent variables, unknown factors, omissions. I would have been more impressed had he used his own original research , and merely gleaned from other people's studies . You hit the nail on the head, when you wrote, "By the end of the book, the whole thing derails into examples that didn't seem appropriate for the topic". So true!

Posted on Oct 10, 2009 1:14:49 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Mar 1, 2014 10:48:43 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 6, 2010 5:06:02 PM PST
Well, the point about the dorm-room experiment was, that Gladwell never mentioned how the consciousness, emotional stability, etc were measured, in the first place. It is indeed interesting that what the participants predicted coincided with these measurements.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 10, 2010 8:53:33 PM PST
B. Bartness says:
In reply to Burgmicester,

"Nothing" in the book would hold any water at all scientifically seems like quite a strong statement. So we just should ignore the chest pain study (conducted over 2 years)? I assume also that you took the IAT test and there were no biases in test results?

I also think a major point of the book is that we do not always have an infinite amount of time to process every single bit of data. We cannot always practice for every situation we encounter in life.

Also, if it is merely reasoning as you state why did the Blue team not use better reasoning to defeat the Red team?
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