I recently resolved to make extra effort to improve myself and broaden my knowledge by getting stuck into some lovely books. And essays and articles too, but ones that can teach me something, so fiction has taken a back seat for now.
After a library reservation came in, I went to pick up Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. Sub-titled 'The Power of Thinking without Thinking', I first came across this title a while ago while researching what our unconscious eye sees, from a designer's perspective. Even from my early art classes, I was taught about rules of composition, the rule of thirds, and later on the golden ratio et al and now it is without thinking that I arrange things in odd numbers rather than even where possible as it pleases the eye without, without the person knowing they like it better for that reason. These can be powerful tools and I wanted to find out as much as I could around this subject. While I understood just from the blurb alone that this wasn't the exact direction the book goes in the general power of our unconscious reactions interests me greatly.
The range of applications and examples of this thinking without thinking is great. It looks at instant first reactions that turn out to be better judgements than laboured research, 'thin-slicing' of situations from which an extraordinary amount of information can be gained and 'mind-reading' where picking up on the smallest details of face and body can reveal the truth. There is always a caveat with these examples though, it is by no means instructing everyone to rush out an act on their first instincts, the majority of anecdotes are relating to academics and people highly experienced in their fields, showing that high levels on commitment and knowledge already gained are what enables these people to make these incredible instant judgements. There are examples from relationships, car selling, furniture design (Aeron Chair- pictured), food tasting, music and product packaging, right through to war, fire and wrongful deaths- so a broad spectrum!
The section on packaging design was obviously fitting for a graphic designer and re-iterated the power of packaging on peoples buying choices. Another section of interest was about how the bias in gender (towards men) among classical musicians was redressed by introducing screened auditions, so musicians were judged solely on talent. The astonishing evidence showed that huge amounts of decisions were being made with primarily other first impressions that the ability to play music- pre-conceived ideas about a woman’s suitability to play some sorts of instruments and play certain types of music. These decisions were not necessarily made my incredibly misogynistic or sexist people, but it was having the same effect. This was an example of one of the caveats, that even highly knowledgeable and experienced people can make the wrong decisions when the 'question isn't asked right'.
The book is incredibly readable and in parts very compelling. There is a chapter which recounts and dissects a horrifying incident where an immigrant is wrongly gunned down and killed by 4 police officers in the Bronx, and its description had me gripped and my heart beating a little faster. Overall, it was fascinating results, people and insights on practically every page.
I took from it a greater understanding of what the human brain is capable of, what its limitations are and how to be wary of letting the wring factors influence me. Overall it gives the message that people can learn to control and hone their own ability 'think without thinking' and that focussing on this can result in change for the better. I'm still a little undecided as how exactly to apply this to my own world and the set of decisions and judgements I have to make from day-to-day, but I certainly hope to.
I haven't read any yet, but there is an archive of Gladwell's New Yorker articles here