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The power of thinking without thinking: Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’


“Blink – the power of thinking without thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell is a controversial study on first impressions and how our mind subconsciously responds to them. Gladwell’s bestseller assesses the power of snap judgments through our tendency to think without thinking and the many ways in which it affects our reactions to different situations, whether we acknowledge them or not.

According to the author and The New Yorker staff writer, Blink is “a book about rapid cognition; about the kind of thinking that happens in the blink of an eye.” He argues that in any given situation, a person’s mind takes about two second to jump to a conclusion, and he attempts to offer some insight into those two seconds. This isn’t to say that the impression formed is an accurate one – his book is full of narratives where the impression led to huge consequences, both good and bad in equal measure. There are three things he hopes his readers take away from this book:

  • That snap judgements can, at times, be better than reasoned conclusions.
  • An understanding of the situations where rapid cognition cannot be relied on.
  • Figuring out how to improve our rapid cognition results by learning to analyze our various situations more accurately.

Gladwell, ranked as one of Time magazine’s most influential people, is definitely a thinker worth learning from for everyone seeking to understand the processes that lead to the snap judgment we make, and the ways in which we can better perceive the situations in which we find ourselves. Marketers, graphic designers and anyone looking to engage an audience can learn from this.


1. The theory of thin-slices.

“The central argument of the chapter is that our unconscious is able to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.”

 “The book talks about how our subconscious is able to not only start to make these decisions for us without us being consciously aware but is also able to send messages throughout our body that allows us to began to react without being consciously aware of why we’re reacting in a certain way.”

This is the rapid formation of a decision, based on past experience, expertise and limited current information that he refers to as “thin-slicing”. He argues that knowing what information to keep and what to ignore is the key to making the right decisions quickly, because having more information that is strictly necessary adds no real value to the decision making process. We tend to overanalyze things, and end up bogged down in the details when we would have been able to make the right decision within minutes of encountering the situation. He advocates for the use of high quality yet “thinly sliced” information to be used in our decision making for quick and accurate decision making.

“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend or peeked inside their medicine cabinet understands, on some level, that you can learn as much or more from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.”

blink gladwell

2. The secret life of snap decisions.

“Priming refers to when subtle triggers influence our behavior without our awareness of such changes.”

He gives the example of the introduction of classical music on the subway, which saw a drastic decrease in vandalism and littering. This behavioral change was motivated by an unnoticed manipulation of the surroundings to achieve a specific result. We hear of such ideas all the time, with countless articles telling us to use a “firm handshake” and “dress for success” in order to achieve it. Is this because a new suit will bag you that dream job? Of course not. But it will skew the tide in your favour, because the “blink” decision will be based on the assumption that you are the better candidate, businessperson or partner for whatever opportunity you are competing for.

Knowledge of the things that trigger these responses puts you in a unique position to accurately read and take advantage of any situation. Is this manipulative approach to life? Sure, some might say that. But all of us, in our new suits and hairdos are trying to achieve the same thing. Gladwell just shows you how to do it better – how to effectively read and influence your surroundings and the perceptions of those around you for maximum profit.

3. The right – and wrong – way to ask people what they want.

“We see that first impressions can often lead us astray. How can we distinguish a decision motivated by fear of the unknown from the ones that stem from genuine dislike towards something?”

Circumstances affect everyone’s ability to make decisions. We base our “first impressions” on a series of experiences and thoughts gathered over time – meaning that our responses to different situations are always skewed by our particular backgrounds, beliefs and the way we’ve been socialized. It’s no wonder, then, that: “When people try to thin-slice outside their normal realm of expertise the solution tends to be the wrong one. When a situation is taken out of its natural setting the ability to thin-slice becomes disrupted.” First impressions – and trying to manipulate a situation into being a good one – can easily blow up in our faces, because you can never truly predict how a person will respond to any given situation unless you know exactly what their past experience was under similar conditions.

He argues that separating emotional involvement from our intuitive process of analyzing situations and coming to a decision is a degree of self-awareness that is near impossible to achieve. Here’s the good news for any businessman out there – you don’t have to achieve this yourself. You don’t even need to market to this unicorn of a client base. What you should focus on is meeting the apparent and emotional needs of your customer – the ones they are more likely to respond to, as opposed to the deep seated unrecognizable ones they aren’t even aware of.

Gladwell encourages us to “listening with our eyes” and delves into the “delicate art of mind reading” in his book. “Blink reveals that great decision makers aren’t those who process the most information or those who spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables”.

He uses different scenarios ranging from hospital emergency rooms to art museums to help us understand his point – that the human mind is a malleable tool that can be taught to respond to different situations in a structured, fact based way that leads to effective use of our intuition.

It offers a unique perspective on the human mind, and insight into the decision making process of a vast majority of the world’s population, making it the perfect read for anyone seeking to understand how to influence perception and specific situations in their favour based on first impressions, identifying the right data for quick decision making and creating a structure for what may seem to others like “spontaneous decision making”.

As he said, perception is reality, so pick it up to understand the driving forces behind what we call “intuition” and how you can direct these “perceptions” to benefit your business.



  1. “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell.

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