Blink follows in the footsteps of The Tipping Point. Once again, Malcolm Gladwell gathers up a collection of fascinating tales, linking them together to help illustrate an idea. In Blink, that idea is that our subconscious, in only a few seconds, can make extremely accurate decisions. It's not intuition - Malcolm deliberately does not use the word intuition and explains this at the end of the book. Intuition is about gut, emotional reactions. Instead, Malcolm explains that the blink factor is when our extremely well trained subconscious zips through a decision for us.

He gives many examples of how this works. Trained experts looking at a statue can tell immediately it's a forgery. Food experts can nibble an Oreo and tell which factory it was made in. Marriage experts can listen to a couple talk for only a few minutes and predict - with extremely high accuracy - if the pair will survive long term. It's not an emotional response. It's a lightning-fact summary of the training that the individuals have undergone.

What then follows is to look at situations which don't involve specific training - i.e. human relationships. Every human, from the time they are born, are immersed in a 24-hour-a-day learning lab of how to get along with others. They learn facial movements, tone of voice, and much more to figure out how to relate to others. Malcolm specifically mentions autism and how individuals with this syndrome lack that skill - and how it affects their daily functioning. So each of us is educated from birth on how to act and react to others - and that becomes a subconscious talent.

But is it a good thing? Because we learn and encapsulate all of this without any real conscious thought, we also bring into our brain all the prejudices and slants that are around us. Early in the 1900s, many people were POSITIVE that women could not play instruments as well as men could. Most orchestras were primarily male (with perhaps a female harpist). Even when women auditioned, they were judged to be not as good. Then, for a fluke reason, a set of candidates were auditioned behind a screen, and a female won. Simply by bringing in screens to shield the player's identity during the testing period, many orchestras are now 50% female. No quotas to fill, no arguing with maestros over "be more fair". They set up the testing so only the music could be evaluated - and suddenly it was.

This was a very encouraging message for me. It has to be taken along with the many other depressing messages here. Studies where they sent men and women, black and white, into car dealerships - with the individuals dressed almost identically and presenting the exact same educational background and home street - had the car salesmen treating the white men MUCH better than the black men in terms of price quoted. Even when the sales reps felt they were being fair. It was innate in the rep's "sizing up" of the person before them, how gullible they were. Other studies with words and photos show that even people who feel they are extremely fair in racial situations still have a built in bias. The studies are in the book, so you can take the tests yourself and see how you do.

Still, the first step in overcoming an issue is to know it is out there. If your subconscious is having you make a snap decision about someone you meet, it's good to be aware that is going on and to take steps to fix it. I really wish the book had gone more into that phase. It's fine to list example after example of snap judgements and how they can be bad and good. But if you lay them out and say "these exist and it's important to understand and guide them" - the logical next step would be to talk about HOW to do those things. The book leaves you hanging.

Maybe Malcolm has plans for a third book, and figures everyone who read book 2 would then be required to get book 3 ...

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