blink

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Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is one of those books that Emerson warns us about reading. Ralph clearly says in Self Reliance: "A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.… …Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another." I love the line and actually thought the same way before I read Emerson; but I'm doomed to attribute it to him. I'm now doomed to attribute any insight into rapid analysis and decision making to Malcolm Gladwell's thin-slicing. Read Blink , you'll love it, but blog about it first, or you, too, will be doomed.

Thin-slicing is simply listening to what your brain tells you about data that it's collected outside of your conscious awareness. It can be good, and it can be bad- the biggest negative I see is for the strong influence personal prejudice can have on this style of thought. Gladwell mentions the fact that most CEOs are above average in height. There's no rational reason for that- it just happens to be a quality we admire. Some one applies for a position, height is noted subconsciously, then preferences are slanted without our conscious knowledge. Our sub-conscious goes on to help us rationalize the decision. Racial and gender prejudices in interviews are often the results of the same sort of unconscious preferences being rationalized.

The good, though, is very worthwhile. It keeps chimpanzees from being eaten by cheetahs. Trust your gut. The idea has little place in academe, where careers are made over minutiae and final decisions may represent the end of funding. But if we were actually responsible for looking at something to assess its value in, say, a security or safety issue, wouldn't rapid assessment and decision making by experienced minds rather than long term investigation let us deliver the most usable results?

just wonderin'

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