by Malcom Gladwell
Review by Parmeet Grover, Partner, McKinsey & Company, Atlanta
‘Blink’ is not a new book, but I just happened to read it in 2017, and realized that it left an indelible mark on how I think about decision-making.
It is an engaging book that highlights how we make decisions and choices without consciously thinking about them, sometimes in an ‘instant’, in a ‘blink’ of the eye. The factual stories cover a range of situations and professions to illustrate the point. These include art experts who can spot a fake piece at first glance despite overwhelming “scientific” evidence to the contrary, a psychologist who can predict whether a marriage will last by observing a couple for a few minutes and a tennis coach who knows if the player will double-fault even before the racket makes contact with a ball during the swing.
Gladwell argues that those who are better at what he calls “thin-slicing” – “filtering the very few factors that matter out of an overwhelming number of variables” – make better decisions. This is clearly a critical skill in business and leadership that I have personally observed in some of my clients – CEOs and senior leaders.
It does, however, come with some risks since it can lead to major errors as well, if not done in the right context. For instance, oe cannot predict the health of a marriage while watching a couple play ping-pong, but only by observing them discussing something meaningful about their relationship.
Gladwell makes the case that some major errors like creation and launch of ‘New Coke’ by Coca-Cola, based on blind tasting vs Pepsi, and the election of president Warren Harding, one of the worst presidents in history, were consequence of poor use of “thin-slicing.”
For me, this book has reinforced the importance of intuition and first impressions as important elements in decision-making. However, I believe that the probability of success increases if these are combined with thoughtful, but quick, reflection, using as many facts available.
Finally, I think that applying a simple principle of critical thinking, which I learnt during my years in France – ‘Thèse/anti-thèse/synthèse” ie ‘argument/counter-argument/synthesis — can help reconcile the yin and yang of ‘Blink’ to help business leaders arrive at the best decision.