The man who thinks about thinking without thinking.
January 13, 2005 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Blinked is Malcom Gladwell's latest short, concept driven book about how instant judgements are often correct, but equally often dangerous. Two reviews on S****.com and S****.com [ad thingie to watch] make for great reading themselves. Gladwell's long been a favorite of mine, and I don't think I'm alone here. Previously cited works include one of the best essays I've ever read, about the ultimate pitchman.
posted by allan (33 comments total)
Title is Blink, not Blinked.
posted by rex at 7:18 PM on January 13, 2005

This has been all over NPR. The review i heard wasn't all that flattering.
posted by absalom at 7:21 PM on January 13, 2005

Here's someone who goes after Gladwell.
posted by rex at 7:33 PM on January 13, 2005

Why are the Slate and Salon links all asterisked?
posted by bdk3clash at 7:34 PM on January 13, 2005

allan must be confused and think the word 'late' is a profanity. Silly silly man, late is no profanity.
posted by TwelveTwo at 7:36 PM on January 13, 2005

I've found, of late, that much of the material on NPR attempts to be crass, funny and snarky, probably taking a cue from the blue. Especially regarding the "Day to Day" show. I much preferred two hours of "Talk of the Nation".

That said, read it yourself and tell me what you think. I thought it was pretty interesting.
posted by snsranch at 7:49 PM on January 13, 2005

Please don't asterisk out words ever again, that is very annoying.
posted by cmonkey at 7:50 PM on January 13, 2005

The Tipping Point, Malcolm's last book, was enough to make me write to him asking for my money back. I'll let you know when he gets back to me. In the mean time, I have been using it to level out the floor under my refrigerator ... all is not lost.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:50 PM on January 13, 2005

Wow--I mislabeled an apparently bad book and, in an attempt to reference a random old debate about slate and salon a few years back, po'd more people. My bad on all 3 counts.

I don't actually feel the need to buy his book after reading the reviews--I feel I've learned the gist of it from the reviews. Neat idea, I think, and I still rather like Gladwell.
posted by allan at 8:05 PM on January 13, 2005

Gladwell is quite engaging. More, he's a great self-promoter. But it's a mistake to take his 'theories' at face value.
posted by humannature at 9:03 PM on January 13, 2005

This book seems to make a more obvious point than his first, but I enjoyed The Tipping Point and his New Yorker work enough to give this a chance.
posted by NickDouglas at 9:07 PM on January 13, 2005

His thin-slicing theory seems to be saying your 'snap-judgements are a-ok', which sits ill with me. It's interesting to see him develop it as a theory, though.
posted by cosmonik at 9:10 PM on January 13, 2005

He was doing a reading at the B&N in Union Square (NYC) tonight- I had places to be, so I couldn't stay, but I peeked at the 4th floor where he was reading- it was packed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:11 PM on January 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've found, of late, that much of the material on NPR attempts to be crass, funny and snarky,...

No cue from the blue -- just trying to change their demo. Part and parcel with remaindering Bob Edwards and replacing him with two younger, prettier models.
posted by lodurr at 10:28 PM on January 13, 2005

"Thinking without thinking" is an important concept, and I do believe it's an accurate description of the vast, vast majority of the stuff that our minds do -- I'm pretty sure we even go so far as to invent accounts after the fact to explain why we do some things that we do.

That said, any philosophy that valorizes snap judgement in this way is liable to be a load of crap. Our "thin slicing" capability (as Gladwell describes it) is an evolved characteristic of our minds [brains], and as such, it's probably not optimally suited to the kinds of decisions we have to make on a day to day basis in this "post-evolutionary" human era. (Yes, I did just open a panteras box on that one, din't I, but I'm too sleepy to really go very far with it...)

And if he were to argue (and I don't know that he does), tacitly or explicitly, that evolved behaviors and characteristics are somehow "superior" to designed ones, well... that's just silly. They're different. Evolved "solutions" are optimal with regard to the entire relevant environment, but they may or may not be very good at accomplishing what we want. If we want something to be precisely, exactly a certain way, well, then, we'd best bloody well design it that way.

We ought to be thinking, in other words, of combining the benefits of evolved and designed solutions. We ought to be integrating our capacity for conscious analysis with our capacity for spot-judgement. We ought not be surrendering our human capacities to the "wisdom" of "crowds" -- or of mental processes evolved to help us better acquire food and maintain the hunder-collector family group on an arid veldt....
posted by lodurr at 10:39 PM on January 13, 2005

I've bought and read the book. It was pretty good.

It didn't valorize snap judgements, nor did it say they're a-OK. Large sections were spent analysing when and how snap judgements can go awry.

Blink doesn't look at the evidence through the lens of evolved/designed, and I haven't thought much about how to convert its assertions into that framework. It's scope is broader -- or more narrow; it's hard to say which. Broader in applicability, narrower in abstraction. Or something.
posted by Tlogmer at 10:48 PM on January 13, 2005

After listening to the NPR piece, I think BlinK may be a victim of its marketing. It's not an extended essay, not a diatribe; it meanders from topic to topic, and its central case really isn't "first impressions are great" so much as "look at all these cool ideas and insights about first impressions".
posted by Tlogmer at 10:55 PM on January 13, 2005

Oops, typo: It is an extended essay, not a diatribe.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:01 PM on January 13, 2005

R. Mutt: The Tipping Point, Malcolm's last book, was enough to make me write to him asking for my money back.

Nice of you to say so without saying why. What was wrong with it?
posted by aerify at 12:30 AM on January 14, 2005

I just finished it. Tlogmer's right, especially about the book not valorizing snap judgments (and about its meandering). He's not assigning these judgments any moral value, he's saying that we make them all the time, and yet we completely ignore them as a practice, a discipline, a field of study, what have you.

His argument is that we stand to gain very much by isolating and contextualizing these snap judgments. The book's ethos isn't "Don't think too fast!" or "Think faster!" it's "You're going to think fast sometimes, so pay attention to it when it happens."

In making this argument, he draws upon extremely disparate strains of evidence, from autism to Amadou Diallo. I struggled at times to find his thesis, but now that I've completed the book and gone back to review some of the points of evidence again, I see how almost everything fits.

The reason something like this is difficult to pull together is that Gladwell's not giving any answers. Blink isn't a how-to about improving your instant decision-making. That how-to would be drastically different for every single case Gladwell describes.

But he points out that so much of our current thought about thought is devoted to the kind of thinking that involves years of experience and study, what he's called the Standard Model of thinking. In every single area of our lives from love to war to science to leisure, Gladwell suggests, we should devote more thought toward the kind of thinking that happens instantly (which he calls "thin-slicing"). And we should learn to create processes that guide thin-slicing as well, not just the Standard Model.

He makes a great argument for it. And he tells many fantastic stories along the way. (Many of which, however, if you're a frequent Gladwell reader, you will have seen before in some article or another.)

If you can grasp the vast breadth of Gladwell's argument without needing a bunch of seemingly disconnected anecdotes to convince you of it, don't buy the book. But if you're really curious about how paying more attention to how enriching our understandings of our many snap judgments really could change the way we make love and war, check it out, and see if he convinces you.

RE: The reviews linked above. Don't you find that all of them linger a little too heavily on Gladwell, and kind of gloss over his book (especially the Salon review, which begins by talking about how Gladwell really just likes to spout off all these agreeable little theories, then quickly starts just spouting off agreeable little theories about the author)? They all, for example, mention his $40,000 speaking engagements. Sean Hannity gets paid $100,000. Who do you think gives the more interesting lecture?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:55 AM on January 14, 2005

I should amend my post to say that the thesis of "You're going to think fast sometimes, so pay more attention to it when it happens" is, I think, of limited use to us on an individual basis. The argument is much more cogent when applied to institutions, and should probably be phrased, "People are going to think fast sometimes, so our companies, centers of learning, experts, etc., should pay more attention to it when it happens."

That's not to say that individuals can't benefit from the book; I feel like I got some fascinating perspectives on everything from my relationship dynamics to my improv comedy skills. It's just that I think his argument's most relevant to those who study how we think and act.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:02 AM on January 14, 2005

Read the Salon article then check in here and take a few tests.
The results might supreise you. The Tipping Point wold have made a great couple of paragraphs. Rudy Guiliani was a big proponent of the "broken windows" theory. Arrests the subway turnstile jumpers and the quality of life goes up for everybody. Coolhunting? I dunno, some hipsters decide to wear Hush Puppies, then when you see it in the NYT it is over.
posted by fixedgear at 2:24 AM on January 14, 2005

It's scope is broader -- or more narrow; it's hard to say which

Tlogmer makes some good points. Gladwell discusses the benefits and problems of thin slicing (the Amadou Diallo case is looked at as an example of the 'dark side' of thin slicing. As far as can remember Gladwell discusses thin slicing as a process of the brain that often comes from experience and training, but is still largely unconscious, some of the people he interviews have broken down how it works for them, but others hadn't managed to (I'm thinking of the example of the tennis coach, although I did read the book a while ago, so apologies if I'm wrong). but I found some of the sections that didn't fit so easily into the thin-slicing/Blink idea.

The sections on the vocabulary of criticism (which discusses how it needs to be developed) and how marketing techniques can mean things that don't fit into easy categories can fall through the cracks and the chapter on information overload (using the Millenium Challenge war game as as an example of how too much information can be a bad thing were the parts I found particularly intriguing.

panteras box lodurr? Is that to do with metal or pr0n(NSFW)?

On Preview: Most of what grrarrgh00 said.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 2:27 AM on January 14, 2005

I have a great deal of time for Gladwell, and his name on the cover of the New Yorker is enough to make me buy the magazine, no matter what he is writing about. If I were asked to single out a few of his recent essays, I would choose the ones on SUVs (contrasting 'active' and 'passive' approaches to road safety), corporate culture at Enron (questioning the star system of recruitment) and the rise of the mall (relating it to changes in the tax laws .. such a refreshing change from the sort of cultural critic who would try to relate it all to some profound change in the American national psyche). He also writes extremely well, and has a wonderful gift for compressing his ideas into memorable aphorisms. ('Victor Gruen invented the shopping mall in order to make America more like Vienna. He ended up making Vienna more like America.')

The one problem I have with Gladwell's work, however, is that it doesn't translate very well to book form. His natural medium is the extended New Yorker-style essay, taking a specific subject and researching it in depth, or taking a received idea and turning it on its head. He's not so good at writing a book organised around a single Big Idea. The Tipping Point is full of brilliant insights, but somehow they don't come together into a single coherent thesis. (The theory of the 'tipping point' strikes me as fun but trivial, and hardly adequate as an explanation of how ideas take hold in human communities.) Someone once said you could divide historians into lumpers and splitters .. well, Gladwell is definitely a splitter, an arch-splitter, which is probably why I like his work so much, being a splitter myself. But the splitter mentality doesn't go well with constructing Big Books and Big Ideas.

I look forward to reading his new book, but with some trepidation. I wish he would just put all his New Yorker pieces together and publish them as a book of collected essays; that would be a wonderful book, and one I would turn to again and again. I am slightly afraid he may move away from being a 'critic at large' in order to become a highly-paid management guru -- which would be a great pity, because being a critic-at-large is a much more useful thing to be, and he does it wonderfully well. I would be sorry to see him turn into the next Edward de Bono -- what a waste of his talent that would be; no, a prostitution of his talent.
posted by verstegan at 2:42 AM on January 14, 2005

Is that to do with metal or pr0n(NSFW)?

Just call me Mister Furious....
posted by lodurr at 4:17 AM on January 14, 2005

"You're going to think fast sometimes, so pay attention to it when it happens."

That works for me. It's on the short list. Unfortunately, I tend to over-schedule my "unemployed-time", so the "short list" is pretty long....
posted by lodurr at 4:23 AM on January 14, 2005

Just call me Mister Furious....

Checking out the quote I guess that makes me Casanova Frankenstein...

...I can live with that (based on the name anyway).
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 5:02 AM on January 14, 2005

Wow--I mislabeled an apparently bad book...

And you spelled "Malcolm" wrong. I wouldn't niggle about it, but I've got a personal interest in the name.
posted by pracowity at 6:29 AM on January 14, 2005

My bad on all 3 counts.

And stop saying "my bad." That's sooo 2004.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:04 AM on January 14, 2005

Thanks for the link to the talk of the nation archives... just the thing I was looking for on a long, friday afternoon.
posted by ph00dz at 10:17 AM on January 14, 2005

Rudy Guiliani was a big proponent of the "broken windows" theory. Arrests the subway turnstile jumpers and the quality of life goes up for everybody.

Ah, but that was not a "broken windows" thing. Using any plausible excuse to toss somebody means a greater chance of nailing them with an illegal weapon, or nabbing someone who has outstanding desk appearence ticket.

It wasn't that scum had more respect for that law; they were just getting taken off the streets more easily

On a side note:
And stop saying "my bad." That's sooo 2004.

It was over-tired in 2002.
posted by Ayn Marx at 2:10 PM on January 14, 2005

gladwell's recent new yorker piece on plagiarism reminded me why i read the new yorker in the first place. when i got to the sentence "It was written by me." i stopped for a minute and thought, wow, this is riveting! for his essays alone, it's worth putting up with all the new yorker ads aimed at people with obscene amounts of money. "wealth- it doesn't have to be a burden."
posted by jcruelty at 3:10 PM on January 14, 2005

There was a column in the nytimes about this book. I have been using this manner of thinking for years. I guess I am ahead of my time.
I am always more comfortable making instant decisions as opposed to long drawn out contemplation. The above sited article also gets into the new iPod slogan "Life is Random" all worth posting about in ZuDfunck's Sampler at some point...
posted by zudfunck at 9:44 AM on January 17, 2005

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