'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell

blink malcolm gladwell power thinking

The art world is abuzz with news that a priceless, ancient artefact has been unearthed among a private collection. Experts declare it the genuine article, yet when a gallery full of journalists and art enthusiasts witness its unveiling, they all, without being able to say quite how they know, feel that it’s a fake – something found to indeed be the case by subsequent tests.

How did those present ‘know’ they were standing before a forgery? That question Gladwell sets out to answer in 2005’s Blink. We dissect the words and ideas of the New Yorker editor and inductee into Time Magazine’s Most Influential list for the lessons pertinent to your career.




Have you ever agonised over which job offer to accept, painstakingly listing the pros and cons of each, only to ignore your careful analysis and go with your ‘gut’? Ever mistrusted a colleague despite all signs pointing to them being a solid team member, only to be let down badly by their poor behaviour?


The workplace tends, as a rule, to put far more sway on thorough analysis than it does first impressions. But that doesn’t mean, argues Gladwell, that sourcing and footnoting your feelings and decisions makes them any more valid.


“We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it...We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress when haste does not make waste when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”


Psychology has a term for this idea of making decisions based on narrow windows of experience: ‘thin-slicing’. And the evidence shows that judgments based on thin-slicing are often similar to those formed with a volume of information. A marriage therapist, for example, found that after spending one hour with couples, he was able to predict with 95% accuracy whether they would stay together, but his accuracy rate fell to only 90% when he spent just a few minutes with the pair.


There will obviously be occasions in your career where analysing the data to the nth degree is the best course of action. But that doesn’t mean your instincts don’t play a role in decision-making. Be aware when yours are trying to tell you something.




When your instincts flag up that all is not what it seems with regards a particular individual or situation, the absence of information is often the root cause. You might simply feel that the image being projected is not a truthful reflection of the reality.


“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,” writes Gladwell.


If you feel like information is missing, turn detective and seek it out. That doesn’t mean you have to be deceptive or sneaky. Asking probing questions and listening with an empathic, open ear simply shows that you want to add depth to your level of understanding.



Perhaps the biggest mistake a personal brand manager can make is in trying to project an image of who they want to be rather than who they are. Whether you’re writing your LinkedIn summary, preparing your elevator pitch or introducing yourself at network events, those on the receiving end will ‘thin-slice’ their way to sussing you out if you, like the Ancient Grecian statue mentioned in the intro, aren’t the real deal.


Be the best version of you. And remember that what you do will always trump what you say you’ll do. As Gladwell writes, “The real me isn't the person I describe, no the real me is the me revealed by my actions.”



Sometimes you can’t rely on instincts alone, but when faced with a mountain of conflicting data, anecdotes, theories and ideas, how do you move forward?


Gladwell suggests that a core life skill you should consciously develop is one that allows you to make timely and wise decisions based on a “frugality of information”. That is, being able to recognise when you have just enough data to be informed without being overwhelmed.



You might like to think that you refrain from judging books by their covers, rewarding people based on merit alone. But unconscious bias is something that even the most open-minded individuals are guilty of.


“I've been in auditions without screens, and I can assure you that I was prejudiced. I began to listen with my eyes, and there is no way that your eyes don't affect your judgment. The only true way to listen is with your ears and your heart,” writes Gladwell.


Only through becoming aware of your unconscious biases, can you begin to notice how your responses to individuals could be based on irrelevant factors like gender, age, sexual orientation, even height, weight or accent. Seek to understand your own biases, and take steps to ensure they don’t lead to discriminatory action.




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