Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

General Description (from
Blink is about the first two seconds of looking–the decisive glance that knows in an instant. Gladwell, the best-selling author of The Tipping Point, campaigns for snap judgments and mind reading with a gift for translating research into splendid storytelling. Building his case with scenes from a marriage, heart attack triage, speed dating, choking on the golf course, selling cars, and military maneuvers, he persuades readers to think small and focus on the meaning of “thin slices” of behavior. The key is to rely on our “adaptive unconscious”–a 24/7 mental valet–that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger, or react to a new idea. Gladwell includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us “mind blind,” focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to “the Warren Harding Effect” (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president). In a provocative chapter that exposes the “dark side of blink,” he illuminates the failure of rapid cognition in the tragic stakeout and murder of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. He underlines studies about autism, facial reading and cardio uptick to urge training that enhances high-stakes decision-making. In this brilliant, cage-rattling book, one can only wish for a thicker slice of Gladwell’s ideas about what Blink Camp might look like.

Why the President Should Read This Book
In 1966 Ezra Taft Benson, former Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower said:

I have personally witnessed the heart-rending results of the loss of freedom. I have talked face-to-face with the godless Communist leaders. It may surprise you to learn that I was host to Mr. Khrushchev for a half-day when he visited the United States. Not that I’m proud of it. I opposed his coming then, and I still feel it was a mistake to welcome this atheistic murderer as a state visitor.

As we talked face-to-face, he indicated that my grandchildren would live under Communism. After assuring him that I expected to do all in my power to assure that his, and all other grandchildren, will live under freedom, he arrogantly declared, in substance:

“You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright. But we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you finally wake up and find you already have communism. We won’t have to fight you; we’ll so weaken your economy until you fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”

In 2001 President Bush, after meeting with Vladimir Putin, said “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy…I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

It seems safe to say that Mr. Benson had the right sense about Krushchev, and that Bush had the wrong sense about Putin, although perhaps it is premature to judge the latter case. Regardless, our leaders are required to make snap judgments about people and situations many times each day, and in the case of our President those judgments can quickly determine who lives and who dies. While Blink does not teach us exactly how to make more accurate judgments, it expands our perspective of what types of judgments can be made, and points us to examples of how others have developed their abilities to make quick and mostly accurate judgments, while also warning us of the perils of making incorrect snap judgments. Any President or other leader would be well-served by reading this book, as well as the work of those it references.

Personal Notes
Why did I put this book under “Management” instead of “Leadership”? To me, this book is about effective decision-making, and I think that is more a subset of management than leadership. An effective manager gets things done and achieves his or her objectives. You might say an effective leader does the same things, or that a good leader is one that is able to get a lot of people to follow him, but the category of “Leadership” on this website is not concerned only with the technical aspects of leadership, but the moral aspects. In other words, for something to be put in the “Leadership” category it must teach someone how to be a good leader, not just an effective leader. Hitler was an effective leader, and he could have used Blink to better meet his objectives. Blink would not have taught him how to do good, only how to do well what he did.