Concrete Theory Thinks Without Thinking November 22, 2009
Posted by mgodoublems in Book Analysis.
Tags: Blink, Concrete Theory, IAT, Malcolm Gladwell, Thin-Slicing Recruiting
One of the things that I intend to do is take whatever books that I have finished reading and tie them in to the big picture.
I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. For those of you who don’t know who Malcolm Gladwell is, he has written four books, The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. He also writes for The New Yorker and has his own Blog. I am currently reading Tipping Point, but I am going to make a point of not talking about books that I haven’t finished yet – without going cover to cover, I feel that I am not of enough authority on a book-based idea to speak of it. I have also read Outliers, but do not have my copy at school with me, so I cannot make a post that directly references it until I am at home for Christmas.
The focus of Blink is on the collective unconscious. The subtitle points to this – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. When confronted with something that is ‘familiar’, the unconscious can make decisions on it almost instantaneously, without any overt thought. It makes these decisions quickly by ‘thin-slicing’ – utilizing information stored in the vast repository that is our memory to quickly make decisions based on the large amount of data that the mind collects in a short amount of time – the instant that is the first impression.
At times, the collective unconscious can be extremely helpful in decision-making. When a person has studied something to near-exhaustion of available knowledge, they are able to utilize the short window of the thin-slice to create an unconscious impression that is better than if they sat and thought about it and collected extraneous data on the topic. Take, for example, the first impression a person makes. By the time you are in college and beyond, you have met a large quantity of people, and your mind has stored vast amounts of knowledge on them, amalgamating an opinion on humans as individuals. Even before a person speaks, when you see them for the first time, you make a multitude of decisions about them unconsciously. Race, gender, attire, posture, facial expressions, and apparent attitude all combine to create the first mental picture you have of a person, and if you have any internal bias, that bias becomes apparent. Don’t think you are biased? Gladwell points out that Harvard has developed an online test that can help you discern if you have an unconscious bias. Go here, click ‘Demonstration’, click ‘Go’, click ‘I Wish to Proceed’ (it basically tells you that you might be freaked out about what you learn about yourself), and then take some of the tests. Especially the Race and Gender-Career IATs. The results are surprising, sometimes.
I know that I have always let the first impression someone makes carry my opinion of them. Generally, when I see someone for the first time, or within a couple of minutes of talking to them, I already have made a decision as to whether I am going to get along with them. It’s not like I internally say ‘I really don’t like this person’ or anything, I just…know. After reading Gladwell’s book, it makes much more sense to me. I thin-slice all of those things listed above, add their first few words to it, and make an ‘educated guess’ as to whether or not they will be someone that I like. If I don’t use that first impression, and instead give someone more time, I tend to be deluded in some way by a facade that a large percentage of people use to pretend that they are friendly. If I cut the time in which a decision is made to very short, I generally hit the nail on the head much more often.
What I would like to do is learn to take the lessons from Blink and apply them to real-world situations to test how this thin-slicing really affects people’s opinions in a less personal sense. I am currently considering performing an experiment, which I will dub ‘Thin-Slicing Recruiting’, in which I create minor 30-second videos of high school football players and show them to a small group of college coaches. The coaches then have to determine whether or not the player is a college-level player or not, based on 30 seconds. I would also like to test shorter time periods. Possibly only five to fifteen second videos, or just an image of a person in pads or in street clothes. If the experiment gets off the ground, I will make a post referencing it later on.
The unconscious can give a more accurate impression of a person than a long period of thought can, it can help you decide whether or not something will work just by looking at it, but it does have its downfalls. It doesn’t explain itself readily. When an unconscious decision is made, it’s made. Thinking back on it, as pointed out in Blink, doesn’t always yield any useful results. When the unconscious makes a decision on something, you don’t know why, you just know the answer. Tracing back the why can be detrimental to the thought process, or overall frustrating, because you may not find an answer.
There are flaws to the thin-slicing method. Gladwell points out that the less variables that are involved in something, the worse the unconscious is at making decisions on it quickly. The mind will always try to find extraneous data if something seems too simple, and that can cause issues, because huge quantities of data, while nice, aren’t always helpful when decisions should be made quickly. It is useful to collect a large quantity of data for future decision-making, and doing so often makes future decisions easier, but collecting that large amount of data initially flaws the thought process and overrides the unconscious.
On a personal and professional level, I feel that Blink will help me grow in my decision-making process. You should read it, too.