Monthly Archives: March 2005

Extraordinary Power of Thin-slicing

After becoming aware of Malcolm Gladwell through a Fast Company article, I was intrigued by the thesis of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and went out immediately to purchase a hardback copy. I’m glad that I did, and I just finished my reading of this important book for those facing the pressures of work or life while doing your best to make accurate decisions literally in the blink of an eye at times.

Three tasks for this book per its author:

  1. Convince you of the fact that “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”
  2. Answer the question: “So, when should we trust our instincts, and when should we be wary of them?”
  3. Convince you that “our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled.”

There are so many key thoughts put forth by the author; here is a sample (quoting the author unless noted otherwise):

  • “I believe…that the task of making sense of ourselves and our behavior requires that we acknowledge there can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”
  • “‘Thin-slicing’ refers tot he ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.”
  • “We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that–sometimes–we’re better off that way.”
  • Challenge to researchers: “Snap judgments and rapid cognition take place behind a locked door.”
  • “When we ask people to explain their thinking–particularly thinking that comes from the unconscious–we need to be careful in how we interpret their answers.”
  • “There are times when we demand an explanation when an explanation really isn’t possible, and…doing so can have serious consequences.”
  • “People are ignorant of the things that effect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant.”
  • “Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions–we can alter the way we thin-slice–by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.”
  • “Taking rapid cognition seriously–acknowledging the incredible power, for good and ill, that first impressions play in our lives–requires that we take active steps to manage and control those impressions.”
  • “Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.”
  • “Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”
  • “In good decision making, frugality matters.”
  • “When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in inappropriate circumstances.” -Paul Van Riper
  • “When you remove time you are subject to the lowest-quality intuitive reaction.” -Gavin de Becker, referring to security protection personnel during a moment of recognition
  • “When we make a split-second decision, we are really vulnerable to bing guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe.” -Keith Payne
  • “Our unconscious thinking is, in one critical respect, no different from our conscious thinking: in both, we are able to develop our rapid decision making with training and experience.”
  • “Every moment–every blink–is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction.”

As I was reading the pages of Blink, I had the following thoughts:

  • Focus on what matters; filter out all else. (Easier said than done!)
  • Come sideways at an issue instead of head-on for a more efficient path to truth.
  • Time-slicing is effective when it is allowed to be transparent and mysterious (i.e. when it is free of crippling and confusing attempts to analyse).
  • Rapid cognition is not foolproof, nor is it a panecea. However, it is truly powerful and deserves more of my attention.
  • Is there a fog around ECM that cannot be lifted? For example, when does BI and BA impede business?
  • Creating conditions for successful spontaneity isn’t a random exercise; it involves regular drilling and practice.
  • Be in command (i.e. state intent/goal) and out of control (i.e. don’t micromanage/stifle creative problem solving).
  • Allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly enables rapid cognition.
  • Lee Goldman’s decision tree/rule reminds me of patterns in software development–essential information (clarity) versus too much information (paralysis).
  • No sighted person ever drinks Coca-Cola blind. Brand visualization is important!
  • Being an expert involves knowing what you know and being able to articulate it. It implies that your snap judgments and first impressions are resilient.
  • The notion of unpacking the human face through analyzing action units explains to me why sometimes when I laugh to the point of tears, my head not only hurts but should–the distinct muscular movement involved exercises out of shape muscles.
  • The information on our face is going on inside our mind; it’s not merely a signal of this internal activity.
  • Emotion can start on the face, not just end up there from internal feelings.
  • Are dogs empathetic because they are able to more naturally process the facial expressions of their owners?
  • Information is useful when it’s not burdensome.

Next, I look forward to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s previous book, < The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.

This year now in WP

All 2005 posts are now in WordPress. Most of my posting was in 2004, and that migration will take some more time to complete–but it will happen. I’ve retired (i.e. removed) my old feed. Finally, until I determine a way to make it more accessible/promoted, you can get my OPML file here.

Escape to Yountville

Recently my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in the Napa Valley region. We were graced with perfect weather, great food and wine, a fantastic break from child-raising and software-architecting, and some incredibly relaxing spa treatments. We also chose to bring some good books to read, banned TV, and otherwise escaped from everyday life and technology. It was a fantastic experience! My book of choice was Michael Crichton’s latest tome State of Fear. The previous novel of his I read was Prey; this is a significantly better story–and timely, too, given recent world events (i.e. tsunami). The title of his first appendix in this novel, “Why Politicized Science is Dangerous” captures the essential theme (i.e. state of fear as an ecology of thought). I was reminded of the line in Jurassic Park (the movie): …they only thought about whether it could be done, never whether it should. I think my main attraction to Mr. Crichton’s writing is that it’s thought-provoking fiction heavily based on scientific reality (already here or developing). While very entertaining the story contained thought-provoking statement like the following:

  • Good intentions based on bad information is a prescription for disaster.
  • With respect to experimental bias: “expectations determine outcome.”
  • “Opinion in the absence of evidence…[is called] prejudice.”
  • “Social control is best managed through fear.”

In his closing message (after the novel ends), the author states: “I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences.” As a result of this novel, I’m giving this more respect, too. Recommended.

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.

Prescription for increased agility

Recently, a colleague of mine loaned me her copy of Tom DeMarco’s Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency. I really enjoyed reading The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management, and Slack was a good read–just not as engaging as The Deadline. Bottom line: efficiency doesn’t matter most of all; effectiveness does. In the author’s words, efficiency is the act of optimizing the present steady state only at the expense of the future. “Slack is a prescription for building a capacity to change into the modern enterprise.” DeMarco defines slack as the “degree of freedom required to effect change.” Here are some more gems from this book:

  • “Most of the things you can do to increase pressure don’t change people’s behavior in any meaningful way.”
  • “People under time pressure don’t think faster.” -Tim Lister
  • “Extended overtime is a productivity-reduction technique.”
  • “The more highly adapted an organism becomes, the less adaptable it is to any new change.” -R.A. Fisher
  • “Leadership is the ability to enroll other people in your agenda…It is success in the absence of sufficient power that defines leadership.”
  • In our new economy, stasis is nothing more than an object of nostalgia.”

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.