«Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking» by M. Gladwell review

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blink“Did they know why they knew? Not at all. But the Knew!”

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist of the New Yorker and author of five books about a methodology of decision making and factors leading to success. His books combine information from sociology and psychology and present it in an easily digestible form, enthralling stories comprehensive to all categories of readers.

I choose his second book «Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking» and did it unconsciously, somehow proving author’s statements before even knowing what he is talking about on the pages. There was a very seductive title that suits a lot my style of decision making. So, I felt this book is going to be something really written for me.

Blink explains how humans can use tiny pieces of information, previous experience and knowledge in order to make amazingly quick and right decisions without scrupulous analysis. And how these decisions can be as good or even better than well-deliberated ones. It’s about a craft of using unconscious mind to process information without mistakes that our consciousness does due to stereotypes and biases. As Gladwell says, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter,” and “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis”. The author tries to convince, that «our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled», that we can train this type of thinking as we can train logical thinking.

This topic seems especially interesting in our era of informational excess and such kind of a book may be extremely useful for informational hygiene and filtering. Moreover, it promises a great instrument of decision making for those who don’t like and don’t want to do a lot of boring and time-consuming research and data analysis.

The book is full of interesting and engaging stories that picturesquely describe cases of successful snap-judgement. A reader meet scientists, culturologists, policemen, marketers and other professional who effectively use so-called thin-slicing and first impressions in order to make right and important decisions instantly. By thin-slicing Gladwell means processing of very small portions of information. We all do it all the time, by the way, but unlike mentioned professionals, we are not able to use and interpret this information properly.

There are stories about the psychologist who can predict marriage’s ability to last long, by  observing a couple for a few minutes; about the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even touches a ball; the art experts who recognize a very well done fake after two second of looking at it. And many more such cases.

So, the author makes a statement, that the best decision makers are those who have well trained the skill of thin-slicing — selecting the very few factors that really matter from a huge amount of data – instead of carefully thinking over and spending a lot of time deliberating.

At this point you really expect that the author is going to reveal the technique, will give some advises and exercises that can help you to develop this desired skill. But nothing like that. The whole book is just a big example supporting that statement. And not very persuasive, honestly. This support is based on selected stories only, there is no scientific data or research, no serious evidence.

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for, ” – paradoxically, by saying this Gladwell accurately states the biggest problem of his own book. We see that he is a professional storyteller, journalist, that he has an incredible flair to find good topics and characters. But we don’t see any competence in the topic he is talking about.

Moreover, he brings enough instances proving that thin-slicing doesn’t work. Sa the case of Amadou Diallo – an innocent guy shot by police officers 41 times in New York City. So, Gladwell shows that his theory isn’t that good. In case if you don’t know how to use it, at least.

But further he doesn’t suggest any solutions how to define whether to rely on your instincts and intuition or not. He doesn’t explain how to find that important difference  between situations where we should slice thin or thick. 

The only fact that is quite evident here is that most of the persons described as successful blink-thinkers were very good professionals in their fields. They have a huge experience and baggage of knowledge in their brains, tons of data analyzed previously and dozens of decision-making patterns elaborated in advance. It allows me to guess this is the main point of the book: a lot of studying and training coupled with trust to your own unconsciousness can make you an effective blink-style decision maker. It means effective quick decision making can be based on many previous experiences only. It means you have to learn, practice and self-develop hard in order to train your brain to think amazingly quick and precise. But this is only a guess, because the author didn’t describe either this idea clearly.

And according to the Gladwell’s theory, I trusted my intuition and didn’t read the whole book. My subconsciousness told me it’s not worth reading a 300 pages book badly describing an idea that can fit in a tweet. However, you can find some interesting quotes that can be probably useful to think about for professionals who work with people and information, as journalists do.

Summarizing, I would not recommend this book as a serious reading. But if you have a couple of boring hours while flying to your next international leadership meeting it will be a fun collection of stories to read.


“The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately”. (p.14)

“The third and most important task of this book is to convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled”. (p.15)

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis”. (p.17)

“Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.” (p.141)

“When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance.” (p.143)

“When we make a split-second decision, we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe.” (p.233)

“Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience. But they are also unconscious.” (p.50)

“Being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous of education and experience”.

“Whenever we have something that we are good at something we care abou that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions.” (p.184)

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” (p.201)

“We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.” (p.71)

“We have come to confuse information with understanding.” (p.135)

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for”. (p.69)

“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend- or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet- understands this implicitly; you can learn as much – or more – from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.” (p.37)

“The real me isn’t the person I describe, no the real me is the me revealed by my actions.” (p.214)

“Achievement is talent plus preparation”. (p.187)