Summary: Blink by Malcom Gladwell
Summary: Blink by Malcom Gladwell

Summary: Blink by Malcom Gladwell

  • Quick, intuitive snap decisions can be just as effective and reliable as highly analytical ones (in certain circumstances)
  • Being good at snap decisions means knowing what’s relevant (filtering)
  • Deep expertise allows people to make a reliable snap judgement (they can filter salient cues)
  • Extreme stress impairs our snap decision skills


Theory of Thin Slices

Idea behind thin slicing is that our mind can see overarching, significant patterns even with small samples. This means we can often make a snap judgement with a high rate of accuracy on little information or exposure.

You can be effective in thin slicing when:

  1. You have lots of experience
  2. You know what’s relevant

John Gottman became famous for predicting with a 90% accuracy rate which couples would divorce just by looking at a 15 min conversation between them.

Strangers can better assess people’s personality by looking at their dorm rooms than their long-term friends can.


Spotting future divorces

  • Contempt, signaled by eye rolling, eye shutting, patronizing voice.
  • “Yes, but” formats which highlights contempt
  • Never giving credit to the partner
  • Inflexibility

Gottman mostly looks at the ratio between positive and negative emotions.

Positive signs must outweigh negative by at least 5 to 1.


Asking Direct Questions is Useless

Gladwell also points out asking couples their state of marriages didn’t give any cues.

Most people had no idea how they came across during their conversations


How doctors get sued

There’s little correlation between doctors’ mistakes and the incidence of legal proceedings.

Correlation instead was very strong with the way doctors treat patients.

Doctors who didn’t get sued do the following:

  • Spend on average 3 minutes longer for a patient
  • Orienting comments such as “first I examine you, then we’ll talk it over”
  • Active listening such as “go on”, “tell me more about it”
  • More likely to laugh

Difference was not in information or amount of information, but how they spoke and treated the patients.


Thin Slicing Doctor’s Suing Chances

The more dominant the doctor appeared, the more likely he was to be used. The voice basically works as a proxy for the doctor’s attitude. Caring and respectful or disrespectful and talking down?


Locked Door

Many decisions we make, we can’t even explain them consciously not even after we reflect on it.

Tennis Coach Vic Braden can guess when a player would hit poorly but he couldn’t’ explain why. The locked door also works the other way around: we can decide what we like and want consciously, but our conscious choice is a poor indicator of what we like.

That’s why it’s common speed daters end up picking partners who look and behave like nothing in their pre-drawn criteria.


Priming Effect

Remind blacks they’re back lowers their scores. Remind Asians they’re Asian raises their scores. Having people do a test with many age-related words had them walk slower (hallway study). Students also interrupted other people’s conversations right away or waited indefinite based on how they were primed, with politeness or rudeness.

Of course, people had no idea of the outside influence that changed them.


Rationalization Failures

People when asked how they solved the puzzle almost nobody mentioned the external help and all focused on their mental processes to reach the solution. It’s not that people were self-absorbed, but the hint was so subtle their rational rain never realized.

Our rational brain doesn’t tell the truth but comes up with what seems the most plausible solution. But even it is seldom the real explanation.

We really should be saying “I don’t know” more often.


Warren Harding Error

We have a strong tendency to vote for those with the look than those best prepared at carrying out the duties (as it happened with Warren Harding, the handsome yet the worst president of US).


Whites Pay Less

White people on average end up paying less not because they’re better negotiators, but because salesmen tend to haggle less aggressively. They’re also seen as more educated and less likely to fall for sales tactics. Bob Glob managed to get rid of his stereotypes and sell twice the average of other salesmen.


When Less is More

In emergency rooms, there’s no time for doctors to gather all information they can. Doing so, the doctors will face a data deluge that clouds their brains instead of helping.

When finally, a new algorithm with only 3 data points was tested, it proved not only to make for faster decision making, but also to be more accurate than the old “take all data” system.

The more information the psychologists receive, the more they feel confident.

But the rate of correct diagnosis didn’t improve with more information.


Visual Vs Verbalization

We’re great at visual recognition but terrible at verbal description. The second we see Marilyn Monroe, we’ll recognize her right away. But we could write a book on a person’s face and still hardly express it.


Role of Expertise

Experts can thin slice much more efficiently compared to newbies.


Indirect Observation

We can learn more from people by observing BL, facial expression, or looking at their rooms than by asking them directly. While people are very good at explaining their actions, those explanation aren’t necessarily correct. Especially when the behavior arises from the unconscious.


Brand and the product go together

Consumers don’t experience the product just by itself. The brand (product, packaging and the context) all play together.

In the 1970s, Pepsi had introduced the “Pepsi challenge,” in which ordinary people were blindfolded and asked to choose between small cups of Coke and Pepsi. A statistically significant majority of people said they preferred Pepsi to Coke. In response to Pepsi, Coca-Cola released a new product: New Coke. New Coke “tested” very well—people were asked if they preferred New Coke or regular Coca-Cola, and they overwhelmingly claimed to prefer the former.

But when New Coke was released, it sold horribly. Coca-Cola was forced to reintroduce its original product, which it called “Classic Coke.” But then, most surprisingly of all, Coca-Cola found that it had accidentally solved its biggest problem, its rivalry with Pepsi. Since the introduction of Classic Coke, Coca-Cola has remained the number-one soft drink in the world, edging out Pepsi year after year. Furthermore, ever since the introduction of Classic Coke, Coke has beaten Pepsi in the “Pepsi Challenge.” In short, the story of New Coke “is a really good illustration of how complicated it is to find out what people really think.”

There are many good examples of how the presentation of a question can change the response. For instance, the “Pepsi Challenge” was designed for participants to sip a small amount of both Coke and Pepsi. But in different versions of the test, participants were instructed to take home a case of Coke and a case of Pepsi. Studies found that people preferred a small amount of Pepsi (which is slightly sweeter than Coke) but a large amount of Coke.

Coca-Cola made a big mistake when it introduced New Coke—it placed too much emphasis on blind taste tests. The idea that a product is better because blindfolded people prefer it is ridiculous—nobody consumes soda blindfolded, anyway. Coca-Cola is popular not only because of its literal taste but because of the shape of the bottle, the color of the logo, the personal associations of the consumers, and the celebrities who endorse the soda. In short, Coke focused too much on the literal taste of the product and not enough on the overall Coke “brand.”


Why asking people what they like is sometimes a bad idea

The musician Kenna grew up in Virginia Beach. His family was well-educated, and he grew up watching CNN and playing the piano. When Kenna was still a young man, he was discovered by a talent scout, who referred him to Craig Kallman, the president of Atlantic Records. Kallman had a difficult job—he had to listen to hundreds of songs a day and choose the two or three that might be hits. When Kallman heard Kenna’s music, he was convinced that Kenna would be a huge star. Kallman sent Kenna to meet with the manager of the rock group U2, among many other important musicians and producers.

But there was a problem. Even though Kenna was highly popular among producers, executives, and musicians, he didn’t seem to appeal to actual listeners. Kenna’s songs never “tested” well—when played for a small sample audience, the audience didn’t give him good marks. Bafflingly, Kenna’s career began to stall: even though he got glowing reviews from music professionals (i.e., people who are paid to predict what the public will like), the public itself didn’t like him. Some of Kenna’s fans—and Kenna himself—have suggested that Kenna’s career stalled because his music is difficult to categorize: it falls somewhere between indie, funk, and dance music.

Gladwell suggests that perhaps the reason that Kenna didn’t become a bigger success is that music studios concentrated on the literal sound of Kenna’s music, and not enough on the overall experience of seeing Kenna perform. Just because test audiences preferred Pepsi to Coke didn’t mean that the public would buy more Pepsi than Coke; by the same token, the fact that test audiences didn’t like Kenna’s music doesn’t necessarily prove that Kenna couldn’t have been a big star.


Feeling Misinterpretation – Failed Thin Slicing

The first market research shows people don’t like the new groundbreaking chair. But the company launched anyway, and it turned out the chair became a hit.

People mis-interpreted their feelings. They said they hated the chair but what they really meant is that it was so new and unfamiliar they were not used to it. People get caught off-guard but given enough time to warm up, they start liking it (of course it’s also possible they won’t!)

We love market research because it provides scores, number and a feeling of certainty.

But there can be no certainty with new groundbreaking products.


Thin Slicing Training

All experts that become great at snap judgments became so by breaking down their area of expertise and analyzing it bit by bit.

You analyze your thoughts for years and then start to learn how your mind works.


High Pressure Situations

Stress can help us focus. It’s what some top players feel the game slowing down. It’s because their brains drop all unnecessary stimuli and focus exclusively on what matters. It’s so-called “Tunnel Vision.” Gladwell says this is between 115-145 heart rate.

Above 145, our body functions start to shut down. That’s why for some it’s difficult to even dial the police number.

Our snap judgements can be impaired by extreme stress or life and death scenarios. Even simply being under strong time pressure, without life or death scenarios, make us unable to see clues in our BL and facial expressions. Extreme time pressure makes us autistic.

Under extreme stress, disengage and resume later.