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"Blink"

Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 12:34 AM


I just finished reading "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell, and I highly recommend it, not only to people who think of themselves as creative or insightful, but to those who consider themselves logical thinkers who carefully consider all the data before making a decision.

The book takes a look at the ability to make snap judgments, attaining intuitive comprehension in a literal eyeblink - and getting it right. Not once in a while, not most of the time ... all of the time.

These are the kinds of decisions that, if asked, people find difficult (if not impossible) to explain. In fact, Gladwell shows that people don't always know what they want; that the 'adaptive mind' handles things like Jazz. It can't describe it, but it knows what it likes.

Gladwell talks about researchers who have analyzed facial expressions and performance under stress. He describes a military exercise in 2002 where the Pentagon attempted to lift the fog of war by extensive modeling and dynamic calculations that would show what the enemy knew as well as what they were capable of. And the 'Blue Team' got soundly beat by the 'Red Team' commander, a Vietnam Vet who seemingly ran things by the seat of his pants.

Until the folks in charge changed the rules. They reset the clock and cancel out the majority of the Red Team's accomplishments, or limit how they can respond ... and the Blue Team wins. The strategies and models were lauded as a success; but the truth is that the model failed in a fair test. Without directly stating it, Gladwell implies that the results of this exercise may have impacted our strategy in Iraq.

The ability to tap into this insight is described as thin-slicing a problem. It's that critical first impression, rather than the cascade of data that comes with an at-length examination of a problem. It's the gut feeling, the instinct, the times we credit things to ESP.

Using examples from art, music, psychology, the military, and law enforcement, Gladwell looks at the elements involved in this process. Though it is behind a locked door in our minds, it does not mean that we cannot train ourselves to utilize it.

But he also looks at what can interfere with the process, and the consequences when it fails, such as when New York City Police officers shot Amadou Diallo.

The judgment process - a form of editing - can be blocked when we, '... can't edit, don't know what to edit, or our environment prevents us from editing.' In the case of the military exercise, the level of introspection, '... destroyed people's ability to solve insight problems.'

This is not going to be a case of magically picking next week's winning lottery numbers, but of being aware of how this ability factors into our daily lives, and, perhaps, changing the way we think.




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