In the pursuit of serendipity (which is arguably an oxymoron, but also my day job), I often supplement my reading list with books collected on shopping sprees through Kepler’s Bookstore. So stacked near the cash register, Gladwell’s book caught my eye on a day I was pre-disposed toward impulse purchases. Having heard many references to the book (e.g. Brad’s reading list), I grabbed it before a second Blink of the eye.
The book's premise is that experts can make instant decisions--synthesizing inputs and knowledge into intuitions that yield better results than long, painstaking, thoughtful analysis. So if you want to be an expert, learn to trust your instincts. Always go with gut feel.
Gladwell backs up his fortune cookie thesis with a smorgasbord of anecdotes that are anything but consistent. Sometimes the subject clearly, consciously understands the elements of the decision (e.g a military commander), and sometimes not (e.g. art dealers wary of fraud). Some happen literally in the blink of an eye (e.g. the tennis coach who can sense a bad serve coming), while others take 150 blinks (e.g. the marriage therapist who plays Let's Guess Who Will Get Divorced). Many are simply lucky guesses validated by time, like the ravings of any psychic who inevitably hits paydirt. And based on Blink, you'd think no one has ever guessed wrong.
One counterexample would be my hasty decision to buy this book. Had I blinked enough times to at least judge this book by its cover, I'd have evaluated the full title, "BLINK: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." Of course, logic dictates that for any X, "The Power of X Without X" is nil. As usual, the Power of Thinking With Thinking (please excuse the redundancy) would have served me better.
Rather than enumerate every problem with this book (Who Has Time For This?), I can simply refer to Univ. of Chicago Professor Richard Posner's in-depth review in New Republic, which concludes:
...these literatures demonstrate the importance of unconscious cognition, but their findings are obscured rather than elucidated by Gladwell's parade of poorly understood yarns. He wants to tell stories rather than to analyze a phenomenon. He tells them well enough, if you can stand the style. (Blink is written like a book intended for people who do not read books.)Do you really want your doctor making instant decisions based on first impressions? What about the structural engineer of your home, your child's school teacher, your pension fund manager or your nation's President? My own sickening gut feel is that the man whose finger is on The Button has read Blink (or at least looked at the pictures). Apparently, Stephen Colbert agrees, as he observed in his speech to the National Press Club Dinner about President Bush:
We're not so different, he and I...We're not some brainiacs on the Nerd Patrol. We're not members of the Factinista. We go straight from the gut, right sir? That's where the truth lies--right here in the gut. Did you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now I know some of you are going to say "I did look it up and that's not true." That's because you looked it up in a book. Next time look it up in your gut.Now I hate to always be a spoilsport, so here's an alternate book for your summer reading list: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (which Brad also reviews here). Moore authored such classics as Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff (indisputably Moore's best work). Excerpt:
"Why do you call this dog Mohammed?" asked the bearded man.
"Because that's his name."
"You should not have called this dog Mohammed."
"I didn't call the dog Mohammed," Charlie said. "His name was Mohammed when I got him. It was on his collar."
"It is blasphemy to call a dog Mohammed."
"I tried calling him something else but he doesn't listen. Watch. Steve, bite this man's leg? See, nothing. Spot, bite off this man's leg. Nothing. I might as well be speaking Farsi. You see where I'm going with this?"
"Well, I have named my dog Jesus. How do you feel about that?"
"Well, then I'm sorry, I didn't realize you'd lost your dog."
"I have not lost my dog."
"Really? I saw these flyers all over town with 'Have You Found Jesus?' on them. It must be another dog named Jesus. Was there a reward? A reward helps, you know." Charlie noted that more and more lately, he had a hard time resisting the urge to fuck with people, especially when they insisted on behaving like idiots.
Like Blink, A Dirty Job is fictional, and it's a dollar cheaper.
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