Gladwell certainly writes well and entertainingly about an interesting subject - but as each new chapter started I began by thinking 'right, NOW we are going to have some advances, NOW the arguments are going to be explored and developed,' and basically, they never were. The book said what it had to say really within the first couple of chapters, with examples of where 'thin-slicing' worked, and examples of where it didn't.
In the end, what it came down to was 'well here are situations whereby 'intuition' or a snap response as opposed to an overload of information wins out' - and whoops, 'here we have situations where people have made some very serious errors of judgement because they have worked from gut feelings that are actually prejudiced, and their 'unconcious biases' have been lethal.' And here are some more examples of these situations. And here are even more examples. And - well here are a few more.
But the book as a whole didn't really go anywhere.
on 14 February 2005
I am slightly disappointed with this book. As a reader who really enjoyed Gladwell's previous book 'The Tipping Point' I had looked forward to his new book. In some respects the book is like I hoped it would be: the topic choice is very interesting, the writing style is smooth and entertaining, the many anecdotes are very enjoyable and there are some interesting descriptions of experiments. Anyone should be able to pick up some interesting stories, points, facts and views from this book.
What disappoints me though is that the book does not really deliver what it promises. In the introduction chapter the author promises to answer three questions: 1) Can Blink-descisions be as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately, 2) When should we trust our instincts and when should we be wary of them?, 3) (how) can our snap judgments and first impressions be educated and controlled? Although the many stories in the book certainly imply many clues to answers to these questions, explicit answers to these three questions are not clearly given. In fact, when I finished reading I felt like the author had forgotten to include an concluding and integrating chapter in which he would explicitly answer these questions and summarize and conclude. But that chapter is really missing. Due to that the book really lacks clarity.
Although this book is disappointing I won't stop following Gladwell's writings. His previous book was better than this one and I'll bethis next one will be better too.
on 20 January 2006
I don't exaggerate when I tell you that there's a ground-breaking two-page essay in there struggling to get out. Some day a book will be really written about this topic, and will cover such ideas as what fast cognition is, how it relates to thought, how to do it, how to make it conscious, how to recognize when you're doing it wrong, with practical lessons. Unfortunately, this 200-page pile of belaboured anecdotes is not that book.
Like The Tipping Point, Blink has a very simple point which it elaborates from a variety of perspectives. In this case, the point is that our subconscious mind can integrate small, subtle clues to very quickly make great decisions . . . as long as we have been trained to know what clues to focus on.
In developing that simple idea, Mr. Gladwell makes the case for "going with your gut" in many instances . . . especially when time is of the essence (such as during emergencies and in combat). He also rescues analysis to show how analysis can train people to know what to look for so they can use their instincts more effectively.
But instincts have a downside. Based on conditioning, we make associations that are harmful to ourselves and to others. He recounts how an innocent man became a victim of under trained, over stimulated police officers and how even African-Americans display prejudice against African-Americans.
Most of the book is devoted to looking at prejudice and how to overcome it. For those who are interested in that subject, this book will be much more interesting than for those who want to understand how to improve their decision-making.
I thought that the book failed to reach the average mark as a book about how to improve decision-making. There's no real guidance for what we can each do to improve our important decisions. We are just left with hope that we can do better. I graded the book up a bit because I liked the insights into racism.
I thought the material on branded products was much too long and didn't add anything to what I knew already.
Mr. Gladwell writes well, though, so it's mostly a pleasant trip in the book. He makes science more interesting, but leaves a bit too much of the science out to make the results satisfying. He's writing for a dumbed-down audience with science backgrounds at the 8th grade level.
The book's opening made me feel like I was really going to learn something. As the book continued, I found myself disappointed compared to the high expectations that the opening set for learning better decision-making practices. As a result, all I got from the book was to pay attention to external clues and my own physiological cues as I react to a situation. I already do that, so I felt that the book didn't really deliver a solid benefit to me beyond teaching me a few new stories about decision makers.
on 28 January 2007
Blink is well-written with a fluent, enjoyable style, and is full of amusing vignettes to catch your interest. By the end, though, I was a little confused as to when it's okay to 'thin-slice', and when the author thinks we shouldn't. Gladwell introduces us to experts who can marshal their knowledge and experience of their subject to make reliable snap judgements in the blink of an eye. Then we meet other experts whose immense knowledge actually becomes clutter that gets in the way of reliable quick decision-making. And then we have anti-experts whose disdain for academic and theoretical knowledge enables them to come out tops in the thin-slicing stakes. And then we have the complete know-nothings of our world who, not surprisingly, guess wrongly about more or less everything.
And so the roundabout turns, all through the book. If you're seeing a pattern in all of it, then you're doing better than me.
I was particularly irritated by a section in chapter six where Gladwell toys with a concept he calls "temporary autism." He is examining the question of why, in extreme life-threatening situations, sometimes 'thin-slicing' works and sometimes it has disastrous consequences. Sometimes a police officer fires a gun at an armed criminal and saves the lives of innocent people; other times they shoot an innocent person and end up in court on a murder charge. In such fight-or-flight situations, an increase in heart-rate sends our bodies into a kind of survival mode -- that is, our nervous systems basically close down anything that isn't essential to dealing with the immediate crisis. Our perception of time slows down; we become prone to tunnel-vision; and our interpretation of other people's behaviour becomes more than usually reliant on stereotyping, rather than an emotionally-nuanced reading of the other person's mental state. The disastrous cases are the ones in which this process has gone too far and heightened arousal has given way to panic. Gladwell compares the 'mind blindness', as he calls it, of people in this situation with the indifference to social stimuli that is characteristic of autism -- autistic people typically have an inability to 'read' the emotions of others, and in fact look upon other people much as they would a chair or a table, as objects with no inner life. Gladwell argues that people in extreme stress, who have temporarily lost their ability to reason and read emotional signals, are "effectively autistic" at that particular time; their state of 'mind blindness' is, he thinks, a state of "temporary autism."
But you don't need to be a psychologist to see how weak that comparison is. The author has simply picked out one characteristic of autism, noted that a similar characteristic appears to be present when a person is in fight-or-flight mode, and then announced that the two conditions are "effectively" the same. And that, unfortunately, is characteristic of the slipshod thinking that permeates this book.
Overall, this is an entertaining read, and a useful jumping-off point perhaps for more serious investigations. But the book doesn't really add up to a coherent whole -- it's more like a collection of amusing shaggy-dog stories without a punchline.
on 4 October 2006
It's been said before and I'll say it again: interesting but repetitive. And perhaps lacking in depth. Im not a phsycologist but I do have a scientific background and I found the text very basic. The anecdotes illustrate the point Mr Gladwell wants to make, but he doesnt really offer an explanation for how these snap judgements work, or even why we should be able to make them. The book is basically a collection of examples of the phenomenon rather than an exploration of it. That said, Mr Gladwell's prose is clear and easily read. It's a book for any reader who is interested in the world around them and how we interact with it, and would certainly keep you interested enough during a long flight or train journey. On the basis of this book I would probably read Mr Gladwell's other bestseller, "The Tipping Point", but only if I could borrow it from someone.
I suppose it all depends on the requirements of the audience. As a piece of science/psychology writing for the uninitiated it makes for some interesting reading. It is well written, grippingly interspersed with anecdotes and stories. Any one who enjoys popular science will find interest in the book.
Anyone who is looking for a more coherent and developed scientific statement may be disappointed. The various stories and experiences do not seem to mesh into an overly convincing thesis. The whole is not made any more convincing by the sprinkling of academic findings.
But it remains an interesting work, potentially much more groundbreaking, but needing a more comprehensive and unified theory at the heart.
on 19 February 2008
The brain and thought analysis are always interesting subjects. Gladwell uses quirky anecdotes to present his hypotheisis which is essentially that visceral or instinctive thinking can sometimes out perform rational analysis. Although some of the anecdotes are interesting and thought provoking (particularly the one on racism), I found the lack of scientifc methodolgy in his arguments extremly annoying. Something is either appropriate for scientific analysis or it is not. One would think thought and brain analysis fits perfectly into the scientific remit. But this book subsituites science with psuedo science. All too often anecdotes are used. But anyone can cherry pick anecdotes to argue anything, so what's the objective of this book? Is it a scientific hypotheisis or just some writer looking for a "wow".
I think the art of popular science writing is the ability to explain something complicated, in simple terms and thus bring something which is esoteric to the masses. There are many talented writed who can do exactly this: Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking or Robert Winston.
However, I am always a bit apprenhensive when a journalist with little or no scientific background enters the scientific paradigm. All too often, they substitute the scientific approach for the "wow wow wow" approach. By the end of this book, Gladwell didn't make change my mind.
on 9 March 2006
...and don't buy this book.
I know what you're thinking.
You're thinking you read the Tipping Point and couldn't see what all the fuss was about, so why bother with Blink. But you're also thinking, look at all the good reviews that hail Blink as some kind of masterwork. Is he really onto something about the nature of thinking this time?
Well, no he isn't.
This is exactly the same format as the Tipping Point. Some fairly interesting anecdotes and scientific experiments linked by an extemely loose 'theory' that is in no way proven by the book. The anecdote-based approach to the argument was a bit novel the first time around in the Tipping Point. Now it's a bit tedious as the 'shock' conclusions are telegraphed well in advance. You can almost feel the 'then the researchers noticed something strange' moments waiting to pop out.
What about the argument itself? The evidence in favour of the theory is lightweight in the extreme. I think most people could have constructed a more convincing theory, with some real evidence, when they were at school. What's more he even equivocates around the central idea. We are really good at making snap judgments sometimes. But, hey, some of our snap judgments are bad. Might that not suggest that a lot of snap judgments are a bit random?
So lightweight ideas. A theory that isn't proven. And a gimmicky story-based approach to 'evidence'. E minus, must try harder.
I bet marketing people will love it.
on 21 March 2005
Firstly, this book IS quite interesting. It deals with what Gladwell calls thin-slicing, what most of us experience as a gut feeling or intuition. Gladwell makes the argument for having faith in our own powers of perception, and not spoiling our desicion making by over-loading with details. This theory is backed up with some interesting tales of psychological experimentation. The results are, as I said, interesting. But that's it. That's all. It's interesting, nothing else. The book doesn't go into, for example, how we could improve our powers of perception, it just details what could be possible, and leaves it at that.
I was left feeling just a little empty by this book, I thought I would learn something practical, that I could continue to develop some skill in. But no. It's okay, but that's all.