If you can take your eyes for a moment off my epic brunch, let me tell you about ‘Blink’, Malcolm Gladwell’s non-fiction exposé on split-second thinking.
This is territory also covered by books like ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’; the idea that there are two types of thinking conducted by our brains. One is the slow, conscious thought that we’re aware of as we sift through our options and select a course of action. The second is ‘fast’ thinking, which happens mostly in the unconscious brain and is much faster.
In my line of work – advertising – we are far more concerned with the latter. When you stand in a supermarket aisle, research has proven time and time again that your shopping choices aren’t that rational.
Most of the time, we are buying packaging covered in colours, images and fonts that we associate with a certain impression; gaudy colours with bubble text are often cheap and directed at kids, whereas a dark royal blue with golden serif laid reverently on top is for grown ups invested in quality. The fact that they contain the same biscuit really doesn’t matter to us, as it turns out.
What is ‘blink’ thinking?
Malcolm Gladwell has a message with ‘Blink’. This subsconscious thinking actually governs much more of our lives than we think. It isn’t a problem at all, but rather should be trusted in many cases, even if we can’t rationalise our decision. The subconscious brain knows something you don’t.
It’s quite a simple proposition. But the reason why ‘Blink’ makes for such fascinating reading is the litany of weird and wonderful case studies that Gladwell has tracked down to support his hypothesis.
He tells us about a million dollar statue that specialists were able to identify as a fake, but without being able to explain why. Games where your playing behaviour changes before you realise it has, or why it has.
More terrifyingly, he tells us about a man who can tell within seconds whether a couple will stay married or end in divorce up to fifteen years later.
Rather than this being a gift endowed to only a few select ‘superthinkers’, Gladwell explains that ‘blink’ thinking is something we all do. In some situations, he argues, it’s far better to follow what we’d call ‘our gut’ than to sit down and rationally go through all our decisions.
Can split-second thinking hold our attention?
If you follow this blog regularly you’ll know that I have a bit of a penchant for psychology books and brain-related reads. It’s just endlessly fascinating, isn’t it? Realising that you are so much less in control of your thoughts, decisions and actions than you would like to believe.
Luckily, even if you aren’t quite so much of a psychology nerd as I am, ‘Blink’ will still keep you gripped. Malcolm Gladwell is a career journalist and staff writer for The New York Times, so he knows a thing or two about keeping his readers engaged.
‘Blink’ is incredibly easy to read and really quite brief. Rather than going into lots of scientific detail, he is quite content to illustrate his theory with real-world examples that will have you going ‘well, I never!’ to the nearest horrified tube passenger. I read it in a couple of days.
When should you read ‘Blink’?
‘Blink’ is a great introduction to split-second, emotional thinking which delivers and interesting hypothesis and plenty of anecdotes to back it up.
For me, it was ever so slightly too light – I know that’s unusual to say, but I found that another ‘brain book’, David Eagleman’s ‘Incognito‘, had a much better balance in terms of anecdote and scientific detail for me, an interest lay-reader. I found myself wishing that Malcolm Gladwell went into a bit more depth.
Still, it’s very interesting and a very easy read. If you’re looking for a casual introduction to the way we think, this would be a great start.