“The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking” (Christopher Morley). Some books excel at it. And it is not just the ones that engage you into travelling away from reality, but rather those that make you think more of it.
In Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell manages to do exactly that. He makes you consider how those first thoughts you have are the ones that matter the most and are often more correct than if you think thoroughly through something.
The book points out that “the key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding”. That is why, for instance, when people talk, we listen to their words and watch their eyes in order to pick up the expressive nuances that reveal if what they’re saying is true.
Through a series of stories and case studies, Gladwell attempts to “understand this mysterious thing called judgement – the kind of wisdom someone acquires after a lifetime of learning and watching and doing”. “From experience, we gain a powerful gift, the ability to act instinctively, in the moment. But it is easy to disrupt this gift”, because we live in a world saturated with information and sometimes that works against our judgement. Those subtle influences from our surroundings, our background, our experiences, our network, often very much affect the bias of our unconscious. As such, we are already prejudiced in our decisions, particularly if we dwell hard on them.
These are the “unexpected costs of knowing too much”. That you allow your judgement to be clouded by too many things – often stereotypes. “We are inundated with information and we have come to confuse information with understanding.” That is why, as the book very eloquently explains, “sometimes we can make better judgement with less information”.
The impression you form in a blink – in milliseconds – is in fact more truthful than the one you allow yourself to form after thinking a situation through and permitting the stereotypes in your head to barge through. The point is not to listen with your eyes, but with what your instinct tells you. It is the power of first impressions, of rapid cognition.
It is true of course that “there are some situations where the human mind needs a little help” – where more information is required to form a proper decision. After all, “truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”.
But, in the issues that matter most, perhaps the decisions that stem from the unconscious are the ones that will in the end make us happier.
Think about it. Maybe next time just trust that ‘blink’ you get as a first thought and see what happens.