Blink: on educated intuition

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink contains fascinating insights into the relationship between experience and intuition.
The book is about the power and limits of snap judgements. In the first chapter, a set of experts feel instantly repelled by a showy new Getty museum acquisition which turns out to be a fake. Their snap judgements trumped months of expensive studies from the Getty. The “snap judgements” of the aniquarians, though, had been honed in decades of experience with antiques.
Psychologist John Gottman is able to instantly detect the likely success of a marriage, and Paul Ekman is able to instantly read faces. The snap judgement skills of both of these psychologists has been honed by the results of years of study that taught them what signs to focus on.
In Blink, two factors play into overcoming the weaknesses of snap judgement.
Education is the first. John Gottman’s method, developed through years of study, can be taught to novices. The lethal snap judgements that led cops to kill an innocent, frightened Amadou Diallou in New York and use excessive force after car chases can be improved by police procedures that give cops extra seconds to respond to problems.
Resistance to stereotypes is the second. Classical orchestras started hiring many more women as soon as they started holding blind auditions. A superior car salesman resists pre-judging his customers based on appearance — a grimy farmer is a millionaire, and a ratty-looking teenager has wealthy parents.
This book complements (and cites) one of my favorite books, Gary Klein’s Sources of Power, which tells stories about how experts really make decisions — not with analytical process, but with educated intuition.
Gladwell’s book fills in what Klein’s book was missing — a picture of how the process of training helps to hone the intuitive process, by generating a large mental database of relevant expertise, plus a rapid feel for the salient points that jump out from a pattern.
Gladwell’s book is less explicit about the thesis than this review. Literary training and perhaps New Yorker style leads Gladwell to a lively, story-based approach. Which is a bit too bad, because it might lead some people to miss the key insight about the relationships between intuition and experience.
(Ross, this was my airplane reading from Seattle).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *