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Thursday, 1.20.05: Blink

A new book is hitting the non-fiction shelves and getting lots of attention: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. It's a book jammed-packed with anecdotes about how quick decisions "can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately."

Gladwell is a well-respected writer and the subject is intriguing. We're all enamored by the notion that our hunches are more reliable than taking the time to do research.

I don't think it's any revelation that experts in a field can leap to a conclusion where beginners need to follow a procedure. An art expert can spot a fake at a glance. A physician at his peak can make a tricky diagnosis in a flash. On the other hand, sometimes they are dead wrong.

And of course there are the geniuses -- the wonderful, instinctual people who break all the mental models of experts and academics and creative something completely new without knowing how they did it.

And then there are the rest of us. I'm no exception to the rule. I've made plenty of snap decisions and intuitive choices -- buying my condo in 1986 and pretty much every aspect of our trip through Pakistan in 1992. I've grown wise enough though to understand it's a crap shoot. Flip a coin -- heads, your gut is right; tails, it's wrong.

Are the quick "non-reasoning" decisions of human beings just as good as methodical analysis? Just look around. Does the world look like it can dispense with reasoning? Read the 9/11 Commission Report. Look at the woman with 6 children by 6 different men. Look at the failure rate of new businesses. Consider the war in Iraq.

Gladwell's book may become a bestseller, but my gut tells my that may not be such a good thing.


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