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Blink and the decision is made

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my writing idols.

I recently started listening to his Podcast, Revisionist History, and I’ve been hooked ever since. The storytelling is enthralling and the topics are fascinating.

I know his name because Malcolm has authored a number of books in the business niche – my favourite section of the bookstore. We’ve got a few of them in storage, but the one I have access to right now is Blink.

That was one of his earlier books. A best seller. It’s about making decisions and judgments quickly, even instantly. In the blink of an eye.

It’s a great read from the former New Yorker journalist. However, it’s a little confusing.

It starts off by saying that it’s better to go with the instant judgments we make, or even, promises to show the reader how to do it. Saying that those fast judgments are more accurate than long drawn-out investigations of a situation or problem.

For example,

The book begins with the story of a forged Greek Kouros statue. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET) had its lawyers, scientists and experts examine it for months. They decided it was real and purchased it.

Then, a trickle of art experts started to question it after only seeing it for a few seconds at a time. Their first impressions were that something was wrong. They didn’t know why, but something fell off. More art and Kouros experts were brought in and the same thing happened – they almost instantly correctly guessed it was a fake, but couldn’t explain why. It was a feeling they had.

Over the course of the book, there are endless fascinating stories about this topic covering marriage counseling, facial expressions, autism, psychology, gambling, police shootings, athletes, racism, and more. It all fascinating and fun to read.

Being a journalist for so many years means Malcolm’s book is insightful, informative, and interesting.

On a tangent, I’ve been comparing his writing to that of Seth Godin, who’s also a best seller in the business niche. I love Seth’s books, too. But his style of writing is very different. Malcolm is a former journalist so the writing is in long paragraphs with interviews and engaging expressions. Seth is a blogger so the writing is also engaging but the paragraphs are short, sentences are varied and the tone is more conversational. Goes to show, you can be a best seller with a variety of writing styles.

Anyways,

One of the interesting things about Blink and the concept of instant decisions and judgments was that in Medicine there’s the ‘spot diagnosis’. That’s where a doctor makes a diagnosis within a few seconds just by looking at a patient.

This didn’t come up in the book, however, it was all I could think about while reading it. I was waiting for him to mention it. But he didn’t.

And it highlighted a problem in Malcolm’s book: one can only make a correct snap judgment, at least on a complex issue, after many years, even decades, of study, work and experience in a field. Some spot diagnosis are easy to make – such as the bulging eyes of hyperthyroidism. Mainly because that’s really the only time the eyes bulge like that.

It’s not even a spot diagnosis in the sense Malcolm is talking about, rather, it’s a symptom. Blink refers to the snap decisions that occur under our conscious level of understanding, and on complex topics, such as knowing if a piece of art is fake. Many of the people mentioned weren’t able to explain how and why they knew, they just did. The book attempts to explain how that might happen when it goes well, and when it goes bad (such as in police shooting unarmed black men), and how we can improve our snap judgments to prevent negative consequences (Such as those shootings), and also help us make more effective decisions.

Ultimately, I felt that this occurs only after years and years of training. And from the many times, my professors in medical school would see a patient, make the spot diagnosis themselves, and then ask us to have a go – much to their amusement.

It was a fun and interesting read, but not very useful in the end. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to reading his books, Tribes and The Practice, next.

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