What’s it about?

We make decisions so quickly, sometimes it feels like intuition. Gladwell breaks down how we make these decisions with a multitude of examples of how professionals and laymen alike know in the blink of an eye whether someone is suited to be president or if a supposedly ancient statue is fake.

By way of thin slicing, the idea that we perceive patterns through a small amount of data, people can make quick judgments that represent rather accurate predictions about a situation. He frames it as our ability to obtain information behind a locked door in our mind. When we can do it, we make correct inferences, but when we are unable, we make bad predictions. This can be seen when we are unable to articulate properly what we want, but we know it when we see it. You tell someone you want X, but you really want Z.

Gladwell gets into why we don’t do so well with these snap judgments all the time. At times we lack deeper information or are already think or feel a certain way about a subject. Implicit biases come into play here and exacerbate our snap judgments that are based on looks alone. One interesting example he gives is the story of how Warren Harding, 29th President of the United States, was selected and groomed to run for the high office because he looked the part.

To round out the book, the author dives into two ideas to guard against these ill-formed predictions. First, we can create structure to help the spontaneity of quick predictions. It’s in these structures that we create a kind of decision tree that is previously based on a heaping pile of information that has already been filtered, sorted, and organized. Second, when presenting something new to an industry, taking away context can leave people making judgments that rely on unrealistic situations. The perfect example Gladwell gives is the famous Pepsi versus Coke blind taste test, in which Pepsi won, that spawned the New Coke product. What Coke failed to realize is that no one drinks their product blindly. Further, no one drinks just a sample size of it at one time; the sweetness of Pepsi is good for a few sips, but in a full can, it may be overwhelming enough to push customers to prefer Coke. Soda drinkers have the context of their relationship with Coke and they drink a can or bottle at a time, and those are what make their product better.

Why should anyone read it?

If you have to make decisions in your life, which basically includes everyone, you’re prone to making snap judgments. All too often, we rely on our “intuition” to guide us. But when is your intuition right and wrong? What causes it to be so? How many times have you heard someone say, “My intuition is rarely/never wrong.” Chances are, you’re operating on information that may be behind a locked door, as Gladwell puts it.

To better understand your decision-making processes is to better understand not only the information you’re basing decisions on, but the context in which you put yourself and your information. This is to say, what you base your incoming data on is just as important as what you base the decisions from that data on. You need to know if you’re drinking Coke with a blindfold on.

Gladwell gets into “mind blindness” at the end of the book. It’s when we can’t get into the minds of others to make decisions, thereby treating them more as objects than humans. For most of us, we can do this to some degree, but taking a closer look is where, I believe, this book does the most good for an individual looking to improve their decision-making processes. Where your implicit biases and pre-judgments blind you from effectively putting yourself in another person’s shoes, you will invariably fail to make correct predictions. The worst part is, without questioning the system, you will remain unaware of your snap judgments’ ineffectiveness.

Select Quotations

“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.”

“A salesman, if he or she is to be successful, has to gather all of that information, process it, and adjust his or her own behavior accordingly, and do all of that within the first few moments of the encounter.”

“Extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the  issue.”

“[Regular people] aren’t cola experts, and to force them to be – to ask too much of them – is to render their reactions useless.”

“Every moment – every blink – is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction.”

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