Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I have just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink. I have to share some of the things that I learnt because it is such a powerful text. It probably helps that he is a journalist and knows how to tell a good story - I could certainly understand why other readers had found it a hard book to put down. It is about the role of the unconscious mind in the way that we make decisions and how we can train it to work for us rather than our unconscious deciding on our destiny without us even being aware of it.

First key message: It is clear from a whole raft of experiments undertaken by a range of different psychologists that we are all full of prejudices and these can determine how we respond to people within seconds of meeting them. My favourite example was around the diversity of symphony orchestras. Until 30 years ago these were populated with men and now there are significant numbers of women. This has not happened through education or positive action measures. It has taken place because auditions became screened so that those judging the musicians did so based on the notes they heard played rather than what they saw. How could we bring some of that into our own worlds?

Second key message: Gladwell reinforces Einstein's famous quotation about genius that it is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. In other words we can all become experts in something. It is very likely going to be a topic that really interests us and in which we naturally spend a great deal of time thinking about and working on. One example which is elaborated in detail in the book focuses on Gottman, a psychologist who works with couples. He was not happy with his instinctive reactions to their relationships so he filmed thousands of men and women, broke down every second of the film, ran it through a computer and codified every emotion. As a result he can sit down next to a couple in a restaurant and almost instantaneously form a view of the state of their relationship.

Third key message: how to combine the best of conscious deliberation and instinctive judgement is very difficult and Gladwell does not come to a definite conclusion on it. However he does suggest what will appear counter-intuitive to many and that is that the use of rational analysis is best when there are straightforward choices. Interestingly when a problem is complex and we have to juggle many variables, research has shown that our unconscious thought processes may be superior.

As you can see, the book offers plenty of food for thought. To find out more about your implicit associations, go to http://bit.ly/14lvYz and take the featured test on the 2008 US election.

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