Books: Blink

December 9, 2010 |  by

by Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

Basically this is a book about vision. What’s vision? It’s the power of knowing at a glance, the ability to see the big picture in an instant. It’s called “court sense” in basketball and “coup d’oeil” in the military. Or, as in the subtitle of this book, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

It’s hard to understate the importance of this. Vision is insight. It’s being able to see beyond the surface, to see things as they are – not just as they appear. Vision is the big-picture impression you get “when you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book,” according to Gladwell.

Or when you want to spot a meme.

In short, vision matters. Blink gives us a few examples:

  • In romance: University of Washington professor John Gottman can predict with 90% success whether a couple will stay married based on a 15-minute video of their interaction.
  • In friendships: strangers can know more about you from 15 minutes in your room than your closest friends.
  • In medicine: researchers could predict which doctors were likely to be sued for malpractice based on just a 10-second audio clip of their interaction with patients.
  • In cases of conflict, vision rules. In the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville, Robert E. Lee routed the Union armies of Gen. Joe Hooker, despite being flanked and outnumbered 2-to-1. In battlefield coup d’oeil, Lee was unrivaled.
  • In art: In 1985, the Getty Museum bought an ancient Greek kouros for $7 million. Scientific analysis seemed to confirm its authenticity – but several art experts knew it was fake after a single glance.

So what clouds our vision? Gladwell says it’s when we don’t edit our information intake (I think filter is a better word). He says: “We get in trouble when…we can’t (filter), or don’t know what to (filter), or our environment doesn’t let us (filter).” In other words, we get lost in the details – no more big picture. It’s the same when we try to over-analyze or “figure things out.”

It’s information overload.

As much as anything, vision is a mindframe. When our frame is information, the best we can do is judge ourselves “rational or irrational.” But if we can expand the frame (or filter it) – that’s when we start to see.


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