Xavier Labour Relations Institute
Managing Human Behaviour Assignment
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
A book review by Narendran Santhanam (G10031)
A brief summary
“Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant – in the blink of an eye – that actually aren’t as simple as they seem. The book deals with the smallest components of our everyday lives—the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new person or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. A brief summary
Gladwell starts the book with a riveting example of the statue that didn’t look right and an experiment using a gambling game to drive home the point that our mind unconsciously does reach a conclusion swiftly when faced with a situation where we have to take decisions. Gladwell calls this process of swift intuitive conclusion, “thin slicing” and explains the concept by citing a series of experiments and instances - how a psychologist named John Gottman predicts the strength of marriages just by listening to a few minutes of conversation between a couple, how a psychologist Samuel Gosling was able to assess the personality of college students just by observing their dorm room for 15 minutes, how listening to the frequencies of a doctor talking to a patient can be sufficient to determine the likelihood of the doctor to get sued and how the film producer Brian Grazer was able to recognize Tom Hanks’ talent the first time he met him. The next concept that Gladwell explicates is that though we make these “snap” decisions as he would call them, we are not sure why we make a certain decision or a judgement – it’s always done behind a closed door, our unconscious. He again cites numerous examples from psychological experiments to expatiate further on this point. Gladwell then acknowledges what we as readers would have been skeptical about all the time now – that the unconscious isn’t always right every time. Our unconscious is for the most part, the origin of all our prejudiced judgements about people, which can turn out to be very wrong. Gladwell says that these prejudiced opinions were the reason behind Warren Harding getting elected as the President of the United States and also the differential treatment that customers get from salespersons. To check whether the readers are prejudiced themselves about common opinions, Gladwell suggests taking the Harvard IATs. Rapid cognition has one major advantage though. When people are faced with situations where they have to take decisions based on very less information, rapid cognition seems to give the better results than mechanistic, analytical thinking. One of the examples cited by Gladwell is about the US Marine Corps officer Paul Van Riper, who was known for his unorthodox military strategies which were largely successful. Paul Van Riper played the rogue commander in the military war game organized by the Joint Forces Command, and his Red Team emerged successful against the Blue Team in spite of the Blue Team’s meticulous analysis of the Red Team’s weaknesses. Van Riper says it’s a strategy called “In Command and Out of Control”, where he gives instructions to his team on what to achieve and not how to achieve. Thus, his team members were free to come up with innovative solutions to problems they encounter on the battlefield in the absence of any rules and procedures restricting their thought processes. Thus, decisions taken under pressure in chaotic situations sometimes work better than the ones taken inside meeting rooms after hours of discussions. Gladwell reinforces this by telling us about the story of a firefighter in Cleveland who made a decision in split second time that saved the lives of his firefighter team and also about the decision tree...
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