18 Down, 34 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

It seems particularly apt that I’m posting my review of Blink on Polling Day, seeing as to how the book is all about decision-making. The book is all about snap decisions, how your unconscious mind might help you ake better decisions rather than a considered, lengthy effort. Not really how I’d advise you decide on your vote, really.

You know how you jump straight to a conclusion that you like something, like when you’ve only maybe heard a few bars of a song, read a few sentences of a book or looked at a tv channel for a few seconds. 2 seconds, in fact. Those 2 seconds – the blink of an eye – are enough for your brain to unconsciously reach a surprisingly accurate conclusion. How we think, Gladwell shows, is a lot less deliberate and lucid than we believe.

One of the studies described in the book had subjects play a simple card game consisting of picking from 4 decks of either blue or red cards. Anyway, by the time they’d turned around about 50 cards, the subjects started to get the hunch that the blue decks were safer and maximised the chances of winning, by 80 cards, pretty much everyone would have figured out how the game’s mechanics worked.

Thing is, researchers also hooked each subject up to a machine that measured the activity of the sweat glands in their palms. Sweat activity is a pretty good measure of a person’s stress levels. What they found was that by the tenth card, peoples’ palms started sweating, and their gaming behaviour changed to correspond as well, with them beginning to choose more cards from the blue decks than the red ones.

In other words, the gamblers figured the game out before they realised they had figured the game out: they began making the necessary adjustments long before they were consciously aware of what adjustments they were supposed to be making.

I mean, if you think about how it, how many times have you made snap decisions on simple everyday things, like what movie to watch, which hawker stall to patronise, what channel to keep watching? Most of the time, you’re making pretty accurate decisions based on your preferences, but without having to systematically review and consider your options.

No, you pretty much made up your mind in 2 seconds and you were probably right. Of course, there are times you were wrong as well, and Gladwell goes into that in detail as well. In fact, he shows how people have trained themselves to make accurate judgements in split seconds, and that we can as well.

Much like Freakanomics, Blink is heavy on anecdotal evidence, but still fascinatingly compelling. The concept might smack of self-help new age crap, but it’s anything but. If anything, it’s all perfectly sensible and rational. It was a damn good idea for me to buy this book, and I recommend it to everyone.

(ISBN No: 0316010669) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be China MiĂ©ville’s The Scar.

P.S. While reading the book, I remembered an episode of Seinfeld where George realised that the key to his success would be to do the exact opposite of whatever his first instinct is. The first fruit of that experiment netted him the scrumptious Deedee Pfeiffer (yeah, Michelle’s sister), and he went on the get a great job and assorted yummy treats. Ah, not really what Mr Gladwell is talking about, but I’ve always wanted to try George’s method as well.


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