“I have a bad feeling about this!”
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you uttered the statement above and you were later proved to be right about your misgivings? Malcom Gladwell, a psychotherapist, wrote the book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” to explain why the seemingly irrational snap judgments that we make aren’t so irrational and they are the product of complex mental processes.
Gladwell asserts that we unconsciously think and make snap decisions (in the blink of an eye) and those decisions are often a lot better (qualitatively) than the decisions we make after engaging in deliberate analysis of the data before us.
First Impressions and Snap Judgments
Gladwell notes that his extensive research shows that human beings have developed a capacity to make snap judgments based on first impressions. This often happens at an unconscious level of cognition, so a lot of our thought processes happen in the unconscious mind. Our brains have two distinct sides; the rational, analytical side and the side which forms impressions without undertaking any logical process. We keep flipping from side to side in our cognition of the world around us.
The author also talks about the concept of “thin-slicing.” This is the ability of the subconscious mind to quickly find patterns in situations or behavior based on very limited information or experience. He says that we can read complex situations quickly as long as we identify the underlying pattern in those situations. This ability stems from both our intuition and our experience.
A real-world example of thin-slicing is exhibited by John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, who has learned the ability to study the facial expressions and conversational patterns of couples for just a few minutes and then accurately predict whether those people will still be married 15 years from the time of his observation.
While Gottman has fined-tuned his thin-slicing to an art, we all have this innate ability and all we need is to cultivate it so that it can play a bigger role in our professional and personal lives.
Looking Like a Leader
One result of thin-slicing is that you are able to make quick and correct decisions, and this marks you out as a good leader.
However, not all snap judgments are correct, so thin-slicing carries an inherent risk that you could be wrong. This is where a history of experience comes in, since those who have a deeper pool of past data to reference at the unconscious level stand a higher chance of making better snap decisions.
Tragic First Impressions
The wrong first impression can have tragic consequences, and that is why companies spend millions testing their products and marketing efforts so that they can create a favorable first impression upon consumers.
Gladwell gives an example of tragic first impressions by referring to President Warren Harding who was elected into office on the basis of his “presidential looks,” but he turned out to be less suited to the office than his appearance suggested. To bring this problem closer home, he also gives the example of an innocent man, Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by the police in the Bronx in 1999 just because of a tragic first impression regarding his appearance.
Too Much Information
We often feel that we need a lot of information in order to make accurate judgments. But more often than not, the more information we get, the more prone we become to make mistakes yet we feel confident due to having so much to base our decision upon.
Gladwell suggests that with adequate training, our minds can make better decisions with limited appropriate input when compared to having a deluge of data to consider before making a decision about a given situation.
It is important to note that Gladwell isn’t saying that you throw away deliberate analysis and consideration in favor of snap decisions. The gut feeling of a layperson is likely to be wrong when compared to the snap decision of an expert who has thousands of similar experiences to draw upon before making a decision. You should therefore take your first impression with a pinch of salt, unless you have had lots of interactions with the subject upon which such a snap decision is being made.
Have you ever made a snap judgment and then tried to describe the process by which you made that decision? Your attempts to explain the process will be vague at best because, as Gladwell says, thinking without thinking (aka snap decisions) happen inside a locked room in our minds, so we can never piece together how that process plays out.
As he concludes the book, Gladwell shares how blind auditions are becoming commonplace in the world of classical music. Because of these auditions, it has been noticed that more women are being admitted into orchestras. This is a sign that when the panelists don’t see the contestants, they are more likely to make decisions based on the musical ability of each person, rather than having their judgment clouded by biases and prejudices that are deep-seated about the different genders, races and other categories of people.
In short, the book draws our attention to the immense decision-making powers that lie within each of us. As we get more experienced in relying on our intuition to make snap decisions, we learn to be more confident in the accuracy of those decisions. However, we must also be cognizant of the fact that snap judgments can be clouded by factors like our own biases, so we need to put in place systems to filter out any biases from our thought processes. That is where becoming an expert in your field comes in, whether it is in the dating game, in business or in whatever work you do. Learn to think without thinking. Good decisions are the result of striking a balance between intuition and cautious deliberation. How good are you at striking that balance?
To Your Success,