Roger Claessens No Comments

The book by Malcolm Gladwell with the title “Blink”, Back Bay Books, 2005 covers the “Decision Making process” during the first TWO SECONDS of the decision making process! This corresponds to the system 1 of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning author. See our previous blog on Decision Making.

Both authors complement each other. Actually Mr. Kahneman refers to Blink in his well know book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Blink is about intuition and as stated by D. Kahneman, depends on frequent exposure to a known environment. Is it about “just knowing”! Blink is not about instinct which is part of the characteristics of living beings on this planet. It covers the result of knowledge, experience or extreme professionalism in a given field. This is even truer in times of stress.

blinkTo quote the author, “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. My aim is to demonstrate that decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.” Consequently, the issue is summarised in the following question: “When should we trust our instincts, and when should we be warry of them?” And I would add, particularly when stressed! The author underlines that there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.

The book provides interesting examples such as the fake ancient Greek statue, the measurement of the sweat glands of players under stress and an unforgettable example of Mr. Gottman who observed thousands of married couples and after one hour of observation of a husband and wife talking, he could predict with, 95%, yes ninety five percent, accuracy whether that couple will still be married fifteen years later. If he watched a couple fifteen minutes, this success rate was about 90%. In fact three minutes proved to be sufficient. His research was based on what he calls “thin slicing” which refers to the ability of our conscious to find patterns in situations and behaviour based on very narrow slices of experience. According to the author, “thin-slicing” is part of what makes the unconscious so dazzling. Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. In this case it is an observation of the same pattern over and over again. Predicting divorce is like tracking a Morse code operators, it is a pattern recognition.

“When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious is doing what John Gottman does. It’s sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is relevant while – we zero in on what really matters – And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point that thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking”.

Another interesting example and observation is speed –dating. “It is the distillation of dating to a simple snap judgment. It is finding the answer to a very simple question – do I want to see this person again? – To answer this question there is no need for an entire evening”. This brings me to the likeability factor which I so often observe in competitions such as the X-Factor. In fractions of seconds we have a feel for the contestant. Questions and answers will often confirm this first impression and set the level of the expected performance.

Rightly so the author underlines the dark side of thin-slicing. Indeed, “What happens if that rapid chain in thinking gets interrupted somehow? What if we reach a snap judgement without ever getting below the surface? Part of what it means to take thin-slicing and first impressions seriously is accepting the fact that sometimes we can know more about someone or something in the blink of an eye than we can after months of study. But we also have to acknowledge and understand those circumstances when rapid recognition leads us astray”. Further to this, the author states that we make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unfamiliar to us. Research shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.

Let us revert to stress. A study mentioned by the author shows that when people make decisions under pressure, such as nurses, intensive care unit personnel, firefighters, they do not logically and systematically compare all available options. That is the way people are taught to make decision, but in real life it is much too slow. These people size up the situation almost immediately and act, drawing on experience and intuition and a kind of rough mental simulation. Let me underline the key word, i. e. experience. “How good people’s decisions are under the fast moving, high-stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal”.

Let me finish with what the author says about information. Often you need to know very little to find the underlying signature of a complex phenomenon. Often, the extra information is more than useless. It can be harmful. It can confuse the issue. It can overwhelm

The author concludes, not unlike Mr. Kahneman, that there two important lessons from the research on decision making. The first is that truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. Deliberate thinking is a wonderful tool when we have the luxury of time, the help of a computer and so on. The second lesson is that in good decision making frugality matters.