Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Yep, Snap Judgments
by Malcolm Gladwell

My desire to read The Tipping Point came from a few seconds I spent perusing Blink in a book store a few years ago. It was an amazing book, with fantastic insight and knowledge into fads, ideas, and their cause and effect on culture.

Just now getting to the book that ultimately inspired me to read The Tipping Point seems a little backwards, ironic but chronologically correct, I suppose, but it just happened that way. A snap judgment on a book about snap judgments. Hmmm, ponder that a moment.

Blink, besides those first impressions left on me in the book store some years ago (notably Gladwell's discussion of the impulses of improv groups and the idea that one of the most important rules of successful improv is that of accepting suggestions) did not bode well for the book as a whole. Rather, it left me a little disappointed, wanting and hoping for more. I shall explain, but quickly.

The idea of Blink is that, given expertise on a judgment, faith in ability, and thoughtful approach, trusting your snap judgments can prove to be a very powerful tool in decision making. Indeed, the power of the mind, the unconscious mind in particular, is fascinating. Intuition rarely leads us astray, and often when we abandon our first notion in lieu of a more thought-out approach, we get it wrong. Gladwell does a great job of presenting these and other ideas through several interesting stories, anecdotes, and psychological and sociological studies. What he fails to do is follow that up with any real insight of his own. The book ultimately turned out to be chapter after chapter of how people could make snap decisions, could tell so much from such a small sliver of time (what he calls "thin-slicing"), but did not follow that up with any insight as to how the every day person might do that.

And the reason he can't is because it's, well, common sense. I hesitate to say that he wrote a book that could have been an article, with it's conclusion and theme leaning towards "trust yourself" or "follow your instincts". But I must: an article would have been sufficient.

The fact that I read not just this book, but Gladwell's other book too, based on a judgment I made very quickly from only a few pages, attests to the power of instincts. Yet somehow I don't feel that I needed a book to tell me that and give me examples of it. I want enlightenment.

And I want it now.

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