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Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged]

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking [Audiobook, CD, Unabridged]
Malcolm Gladwell

Blink, like several of Gladwell's books, is one of those things that has been on my "too read" list forever, but I never quite seem to get around to reading it. I have discovered that audio books seem to be a perfect solution for this sort of thing. This was doubly true since I got this from my local library, which assuaged any worries I might have had about the book being based more on hype than substance.

Blink chronicles Gladwell's exploration of two connected areas of research: how human beings go about making snap judgements, and why those snap judgements go horribly wrong. In exploring this question, he ends up talking to researchers who have learned to analyze married couples in a fraction of second, the historical oddity that is Warren Harding, and a host of other examples of people who have followed their instincts to success or disaster.

The core theme of Gladwell's work is that those who succeed at snap decisions are those who are most skilled at "thin slicing", that is, those who can most quickly extract and process the most relevant pieces of information from any scenario and act on that, and on that alone. Thin slicing is an entirely subconscious process, but it turns out that with enough practice and exposure, that process can be improved and trained.

Most of the book is devoted to subjects that are not directly tied into martial arts or self-defense, but there are a few sections which are particularly relevant to those concerns. The first is Gladwell's discussion of officer shootings, which focuses mostly on the shooting of Amadou Diallo by four New York police officers, but touches on some other incidents as well. The story of the Millennium Challenge 2002 is an interesting study in military tactics, and one could probably draw a comparison between the rigid, inflexible thinking of the Blue group and the rigid, inflexible training methods of some martial artists. Finally, the discussion of the research into facial expressions, and how much we can learn from them has some obvious applications for self-defense, if you were willing to put the time into learning it.

The audio version of this book is read by Gladwell himself, and he reads it well.

The only downside to listening to the book is that it's more difficult to follow up references, check up on articles, and so on.

In poking around for a few links, I notice that there seems be a common critique that Gladwell presents the intuition as some kind of magical knowledge that always supersedes critical thinking skills. I didn't really get that from the book--certainly, Gladwell does point out examples where intuition played a critical role, but that's the focus of the book. He finds plenty of examples where intuition and snap judgements went horribly wrong as well.

For martial artists, I think the book is a worthwhile read, particularly if you teach self-defense. It gives some valuable insight into how people make snap judgements, and how the ability to make those judgements can be improved. That's a pretty relevant skill for a martial artist.

If you don't do martial arts, the book is still worth reading. There's just interesting things to think about in here.

2 comments:

Maija said...

Great book. Loved it. What I got from it was that 'intuition' that works, comes from experience, not just some innate good luck at guessing, but that you have to develop a relationship with it so you get to trust it. Rory talks about this too which I think is interesting.

Also enjoyed his other books. Unusual thinker :-)

Jake said...

That actually reminded me:

One of the things I thought was interesting was there were certain areas where a little knowledge and thought was actually worse than no knowledge.

There was an example with Jam tasting,where the experts and complete novices came to very similar conclusions, as long as the novices didn't think about their answers too much. When the novices had to justify their answers, they screwed everything up.

No knowledge is sometimes better than a little knowledge, apparently.