Blink Background

Blink Background

With one of the most incisive and insightful minds in the world of the earliest 21st century, author and social researcher Malcolm Gladwell turns his attention to the link between the decisions one makes and the success one enjoys in Blink. The premise of his book is based on the proposition that there are two separate and distinct methodologies a person can use when engaging the decision-making process: slow and logical or quick and gut-based.

That gut-level sort of instinctive process which bypasses most of the rules of logical consideration goes by different names: hunch, impulse, reflex, compulsion, whim and so on. The point for Gladwell is that regardless of the terminology which can create a different connotation—a hunch usually seems a bit more serious than a whim, for instance—the underlying quality of assurance which gives people the fortitude to go with it is one based almost entirely on an emotional response with almost no significant impact from the intellect. Logically, of course, this would lead to a statistical conclusion that decisions made in the blink of an eye generally turn out worse than decisions carefully cultivate from intellectual analysis spread out over time.

Blink convincingly argues, however, that in a great many cases—including some very prominent examples—the hunch turns outs to have been a far better process for making a decision than agonized laboring over details. Perhaps more importantly is that even when presented with data to support this contention, society maintains a deep distrust of decisions made on an emotional whim compared to decisions resulting from dispassionately methodical diagnostics. At the root of the problem, Gladwell suggests in Blink, is a pervasive societal suspicion of the underlying structural integrity of the gut-level decision.

The controversial thesis upon which Gladwell constructs his argument is a theory he calls “thin slicing” which essentially boils down to the human mind’s ability to filter our irrelevance to focus on the golden nugget of necessary information regardless of the situation at hand or the wealth of information with requires filtering. Thin slicing is an evolutionary tool that adapts to meet the next situation by sliding out useless clutter and filing away deep within the unconscious mind that data found significant enough to slice through the filter and become lodged permanently for recall as needed. The problem with such a filtering system, however, is that as that filtered data gets lodged more firmly within our unconscious drives, eventually it serves to create a kind of stereotyping of expectations that rise to surface of conscious thought in the form of stereotypical thinking that impacts the process of gut-level decision making.

The decidedly mixed critical reaction to Blink was based upon a variety of response to Gladwell’s engagement of the theory of “thin slicing” to support his contention about the viability of instinctual decision making. While many critics specifically attacked his overriding utilization of anecdotal evidence in place of more hardline statistical data analysis, much of the contemptuous dismissal of the book seemed inextricably tied to a pervasive anxiety over the potential consequences of widespread acceptance of Gladwell’s argument as it related to the currency of scientific consulting within the academic and corporate sectors. After all, if the gut can be just as reliable as a highly paid think tank, where would the wisdom be in deciding to pay big money to get the same result a hunch provides for free?

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