Blink – The power of thinking without thinking

„Blink – The power of thinking without thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell is an intriguing demonstration of how instinctive decisions as just as valid as their counterpart.

 Theory versus instinct


The learning process is defined as being a simple game of deduction. The moment we start learning we get a hunch while making new discoveries. Then, we test out our discoveries, over and over again. We continue repeating the process. Theories emerge. This is a long version of the thinking process. We are able to develop theories after weeks, months and years of practice. By that time, everything comes easy to us.

However, in his book “Blink”, Malcolm Gladwell tries to demonstrate that some decisions are just as valid, even though they are not the result of a long thinking process. The instinctive decisions are not something some of the gifted ones possess. It’s a process that we can all learn to master if we give it a chance. Malcolm’s “Blink” is full of examples where instinct decisions are just as good or even better than long-thought ones.  


How we think


Whenever we face something new, we tend to use two strategies.

One is the conscious strategy.

We face a new problem; we think about what we know, and we come up with an answer. This is the logical way of doing things.

The only problem with this strategy is that it takes a long time. It’s a slow process. In order to put to use the conscious strategy, we must first spend a very long time studying, learning and developing theories. Only after the learning process takes place, are we able to make an informed and logical decision.

Moreover, we are able to explain our choices in the matter since we’ve put enough time into developing the theories behind it.  

The second strategy we use is the subconscious strategy.

It’s also called the “fast and frugal strategy”. It operates below the surface and sends messages to the conscious through unknown pathways. We reach conclusions although at the moment we’re doing that, our brain doesn’t know that it’s reaching a conclusion. It’s more in the line of the sixth sense, Evy Pompouras, former Secret Service Agent, mentions in her “Becoming Bullet Proof”.  


No explanation for our thinking behaviour


At the beginning of the school year, students were asked to watch a video of some teachers they haven’t met before. The videos were without sound and each teacher got around 2 minutes. The students made assessments of some strangers they haven’t even met, based solely on their non-verbal behaviour.

What’s astounding is that, at the end of the year, after the students got the chance to meet the teachers in the videos and spend time with them, their decisions haven’t changed. Their initial decisions were based on no information. They were based purely on instinct. The assessments at the end of the year were the same. The students reached the same conclusions regarding their teachers after spending one semester getting to know their teachers.

What the students did was snap judgement.


Our prejudice concerning snap judgements


The world is doubtful when it comes to snap judgements. They are too quick, therefore, they cannot be accurate. After all, there is no sound study of evidence to support them. For this reason, they must be wrong.  

Another argument against snap judgements is that we often choose to ignore them. Since we cannot find a reasonable explanation for our decision, we dismiss it as being invalid.


Snap judgements vs. long thought out decisions


Should we go with our gut feeling when it comes to making decisions or should we base our decisions on a long thinking process?

There is no right answer. However, the most important aspect of the matter is that we should keep an open mind the next time we face such decisions.

There are moments when we should make long and calculated decisions. There are also moments when quick judgements are just as valid as their counterparts. However, we should use both types of decisions with caution. Ironically, the ability to distinguish between the two comes with time and practice.  


Thin slicing


You are going for an interview for a potential new job in a new company.

The boss decides that the only way to get to know you better before giving you the job is to have an employee spend time with you to get to know the kind of person you are. That would be the logical decision. After all, time will tell the employee what kind of person you really are. His task resembles the ones of our friends. They too got to spend some time with us before deciding whether we are worthy of their friendship or not.

Another choice would be to send an employee to the house of the potential candidate to find out what impression he got from entering his bedroom, the most intimate of rooms in the house.

Which method was better for getting to know the potential candidate: spending time to get to know him or simply visiting his bedroom to get a feeling of the type of person he is?

The psychologist Samuel Gosling, discovered that you can get to know a person much faster, without having to spend so much time with them.

Gossling devised 5 factors to measure people across five dimensions:

  • Extroversion – sociable or reserved.
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness – organized or disorganized
  • Emotional stability -Insecure or secure
  • Openness to new experiences – imaginative or down to earth, independent or conforming?

Gosling gave a questionnaire to a group of friends of the potential employee as to a group of strangers. He prepared questions to cover all 5 factors through which we can get to know a person.

After completing the questionnaire, the friends managed to portray better the potential employee as far as extroversion and agreeableness are concerned. However, on the conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to new experiences, the strangers who visited the bedroom did way better.


Intuitive vs. conscious judgement


            What Samuel Gosling was looking for in his experiment was our intuitive judgement.

            If we want to know what kind of person we’re facing, we should stop by his or her house.

We can learn much about a person by studying his / her private space, even more so than spending public time with that same person.

Thin slicing of the person’s intimate space shields us from using our preconceived ideas.

We cannot help but look at a jog and immediately think of him as a mindless brute. By using thin slicing and visiting the person’s private space, we can make sure we’re set straight.


Our behaviour or merely a suggestion


            We believe that if we make decisions based on a lot of information, we cannot go wrong. But, what if our behaviours as a result of our decisions are not ours at all but suggestions made by someone else?

            Some students were invited into John Bargh’s office. They thought they were getting a language test. John Bargh designed a set of sentences with jumbled words that needed to be ordered to make a complete and valid sentence.

            Before going to John Bargh’s office, the students were in a rush, walking straight and at a speedy pace.

            After the test was finished and the students stepped outside of the office, they walked slower, even hunched. Among the words jumbled on the piece of paper, there was a lot that was related to old age.

            After rearranging the words, the students were left in the state of being old.


Persuasion or suggestion


            In “Pre-suasion”, Robert Cialdini talks about a similar experiment. Before going to class, students were asked to think of a number between 1 – 10. After stepping inside, each was given a paper in which they were asked to donate some money in between 1 – 10 dollars to a poor girl.

            The students who thought of a big number were more generous than the ones who thought about a smaller number. The experiment was repeated. After all, it must have been a coincidence. The results were the same. The students who thought about a big number were the same ones who were generous when it came to giving money to the poor girl.

            We believe we are the masters of our decisions, when in fact, studies have shown we are so easily manipulated in thinking that our decisions have nothing to do with outside influence.

            The same thing happens when it comes to marketing. We buy things we don’t need only because we’ve watched a commercial telling us otherwise.

            The more the marketing strategy covers all our senses, the more we are defenseless in the face of such an attack. We stand no chance from the beginning.

What we think and how we act is much more susceptible to outside influence.


More doesn’t necessarily mean better


            Information, commercials, questions, strangers… The moment we wake up until we go to sleep, there’s an avalanche of information coming at us. We have to make decisions after decisions, hoping that we made the right one.

Sometimes our experience doesn’t fail us. We have developed a pattern of thinking that gets us out of the jam. Nevertheless, most of the time, we have to make decisions based on very or no information at all. What we can do is hope we make the best one.

            In his “Transformational Grammar”, Noam Chomsky tells us that we can only have a perception of reality. Because there is so much information, the time we have to reach a conclusion or to make a decision is very short. For this reason, we tend to eliminate, distort and generalize and, as a result, make our decisions.

            Sometimes we are lucky enough to have previous input to base our decisions on.

Sometimes, we’re not that lucky, but we make the decision anyway.

That doesn’t mean our decision is worse, it’s just different.

We don’t always need an explanation for the things we do, it suffices to say we just know and leave it at that.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top