Read: July 2012
Rating: 3/5 (Good)
Blink was one of the first books I read that started me down the path of considering the role of the subconscious in decision making. I’ve always been struck in business context how the most successful entrepreneurs are able to make snap judgements with such confidence and accuracy and Blink starts to unpack why that is.
The ability to articulate, or not articulate something, doesn’t necessarily reflect how well we know it. If you’re attracted to someone, you may or may not be able to articulate why that is, either way it doesn’t necessarily have a strong correlation with the truth of how you feel.
If you have a lot of experience in a domain, and you have a strong gut feeling about what the right decision is, don’t overrationalize, follow your gut.
“Thin-slicing” refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.
I think that this is the way that our unconscious works. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It’s sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is irrelevant while we zero in on what really matters. And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking.
Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious.
Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way.
They suggest that what we think of as 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.
attraction isnt a choice
Mary has an idea about what she wants in a man, and that idea isn’t wrong. It’s just incomplete. The description that she starts with is her conscious ideal: what she believes she wants when she sits down and thinks about it. But what she cannot be as certain about are the criteria she uses to form her preferences in that first instant of meeting someone face-to-face. That information is behind the locked door.
people are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.”
The secret of Golomb’s success is that he has decided to fight the Warren Harding error.
He created the conditions for successful spontaneity.
verbal overshadowing. Your brain has a part (the left hemisphere) that thinks in words, and a part (the right hemisphere) that thinks in pictures, and what happened when you described the face in words was that your actual visual memory was displaced.
We all have an instinctive memory for faces. But by forcing you to verbalize that memory—to explain yourself—I separate you from those instincts.
we take it, as a given, that the more information decision makers have, the better off they are.
the opposite: that all that extra information isn’t actually an advantage at all; that, in fact, you need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon.
Gulf—that extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the issues. What screws up doctors when they are trying to predict heart attacks is that they take too much information into account.
“As they received more information,” Oskamp concluded, “their certainty about their own decisions became entirely out of proportion to the actual correctness of those decisions.” This is the same thing that happens with doctors in the ER. They gather and consider far more information than is truly necessary because it makes them feel more confident—and with someone’s life in the balance, they need to feel more confident. The irony, though, is that that very desire for confidence is precisely what ends up undermining the accuracy of their decision. They feed the extra information into the already overcrowded equation they are building in their heads, and they get even more muddled.
truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.
Deliberate thinking is a wonderful tool when we have the luxury of time, the help of a computer, and a clearly defined task, and the fruits of that type of analysis can set the stage for rapid cognition.
in good decision making, frugality matters.
Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgments, we have to take steps to protect that frugality.
the best way to see if someone will buy a product is to ask them to buy it
Then there’s the issue of what is called sensation transference. This is a concept coined by one of the great figures in twentieth-century marketing, a man named Louis Cheskin, who was born in Ukraine at the turn of the century and immigrated to the United States as a child. Cheskin was convinced that when people give an assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself. To put it another way, Cheskin believed that most of us don’t make a distinction—on an unconscious level—between the package and the product. The product is the package and the product combined.
testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation. We like market research because it provides certainty—a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number. But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty. Kenna did badly when he was subjected to market research. But so what? His music was new and different, and it is the new and different that is always most vulnerable to market research.
The first impressions of experts are different. By that I don’t mean that experts like different things than the rest of us—although that is undeniable. When we become expert in something, our tastes grow more esoteric and complex. What I mean is that it is really only experts who are able to reliably account for their reactions.
Whenever we have something that we are good at—something we care about—that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions.
This is how the human body reacts to extreme stress, and it makes sense. Our mind, faced with a life-threatening situation, drastically limits the range and amount of information that we have to deal with. Sound and memory and broader social understanding are sacrificed in favor of heightened awareness of the threat directly in front of us. In a critical sense, the police officers whom Klinger describes performed better because their senses narrowed: that narrowing allowed them to focus on the threat in front of them.
Too often we are resigned to what happens in the blink of an eye. It doesn’t seem like we have much control over whatever bubbles to the surface from our unconscious. But we do, and if we can control the environment in which rapid cognition takes place, then we can control rapid cognition. We can prevent the people fighting wars or staffing emergency rooms or policing the streets from making mistakes.
being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous course of education and experience.
It’s the kind of wisdom that someone acquires after a lifetime of learning and watching and doing. It’s judgment. And what Blink is—what all the stories and studies and arguments add up to—is an attempt to understand this magical and mysterious thing called judgment.
understanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled.
We live in a world saturated with information. We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips at all times, and we’re well versed in the arguments about the dangers of not knowing enough and not doing our homework. But what I have sensed is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have come to confuse information with understanding.
The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.
On straightforward choices, deliberate analysis is best. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to get complicated—when we have to juggle many different variables—then our unconscious thought processes may be superior.
“there is no a priori reason to assume that [it] does not generalize to other types of choices—political, managerial, or otherwise.” Not long after I read the Science study, a reader sent me the following quotation from Sigmund Freud. It seems that the father of the unconscious agreed: “When making a decision of minor importance, I have always found it advantageous to consider all the pros and cons. In vital matters, however, such as the choice of a mate or a profession, the decision should come from the unconscious, from somewhere within ourselves. In the important decisions of personal life, we should be governed, I think, by the deep inner needs of our nature.”
the task of figuring out how to combine the best of conscious deliberation and instinctive judgment is one of the great challenges of our time.
It is not enough simply to explore the hidden recesses of our unconscious. Once we know about how the mind works—and about the strengths and weaknesses of human judgment—it is our responsibility to act.
Last Updated on April 18, 2019 by RipplePop