Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Blink and a miss: Instinctively thinking

Book review

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking
Malcolm Galdwell
277 pages
Little brown

Instinctively thinking!

An industry which thrives on split-second decisions Public Relations can be nerve wracking, especially when there is not enough information to make an informed choice and the time on hand is slipping by.

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking
proposes a radical solution which is mind bobbling in its simplicity. Trust your instinct, is the message Malcolm Galdwell has for the reader who at the end of the last page is left grappling with the conundrum of how to start listening to his or her inner voice.

There is in all of our brains, Galdwell argues, a mighty backstage process, which works its will subconsciously. Through this process we have the capacity to sift huge amounts of information, blend data, isolate telling details and come to astonishingly rapid conclusions, even in the first two seconds of seeing something. '' 'Blink' is a book about those first two seconds,'' Galdwell writes.

Littered with anecdotes Blink takes you on a whirl-wind journey through a cross section of disciplines and human experiences that range from speed dating to evolved methodical study of human facial expressions.

There is the story of the psychologist John Gottman, who since the 1980's has worked with more than 3,000 married couples in a small room, his ''love lab,'' near the
University of Washington. He videotapes them having a conversation. Reviewing just an hour's worth of each tape, Gottman has been able to predict with 95 percent accuracy whether that couple will be married 15 years later. If he watches only 15 minutes of tape, his success rate is about 90 percent. Scientists in his lab have determined they can usually predict whether a marriage will work after watching just three minutes of newlywed conversation.

Gottman believes that each relationship has a DNA, or an essential nature. It's possible to take a very thin slice of that relationship, grasp its fundamental pattern and make a decent prediction of its destiny.

''We are innately suspicious of this kind of rapid cognition,'' Galdwell observes. We assume that long, methodical investigation yields more reliable conclusions than a snap judgment. But in fact, ''decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.''

Being academically inclined in the understanding the myriad mysteries of the brain, the book proposes a simple solution to a perceived complex problem. But, the author seems to be conflicted in his discourse on the subject as he chooses to err on the side of caution while suggesting that we implement the same in everyday life.

The radical positioning of rapid cognition as the ultimate answer to everyday decisions can be influenced by innate prejudices which grow with an individual functioning in a society, influenced by the prevalent perceptions. Racial or ethnic stereotypes and the manner with which most of us react to these perceptions illustrate the above.

We are constantly being ‘primed’ by education, media and other socio-cultural influencing to think and react in a particular way to people and situations. This can be unlearnt, is Galdwell’s contention, with purposeful effort so as to protect one’s instinct from being conned into habitual reactions.

In a dynamic field like public relations cultivating the art of recognizing and trusting the ‘gut instinct’ instead of getting caught up in the “Einstein” of a situation could cull the trauma of endlessly groping in the dark. But, the caveat lies in the practice of strict adherence of hierarchical structures and due process followed by an organization.

Therein lays the proverbial dilemma of contemporary organizational practices. Would a person empowered with Galdwell’s argument truly be able to unleash the potential of thin-slicing? Can a person who is expected to conform to the modalities of ‘internal process’ give in to the temptation of making choices on their own?

The book provides with a rare insight, which encourages one to what could be considered as one of the primary traits of survival. Also, tomes of literature exist on the counter theory of following the tried and tested path of research and statistical data to back a decision. Blink through its many illustrations cajoles us to step into mysteries of rapid cognition and synaptic urges that define the very crux of human existence. After all, if gut instinct is good enough for evolution, its might as well work in the modern corporate jungle.

Galdwell’s acclaimed earlier work Tipping point is considered amongst the purists to be far better, than his current effort. I have not read it. I had not heard about the ‘insightful’ Malcolm Galdwell before reading this book. Neither did any of my self-confessed “self-help” book addicts pursue me to go through this “life changing experience” as they would have described it.

I picked up Blink on the whim of an instinct. May be that’s a start!