“The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”

Most of us would agree that good decisions are made with good data and lots of time to consider it.

I just finished Blink1 by Malcolm Gladwell where I learned the term “thin slicing.” Thin slicing is when we train ourselves to make decisions from our “adaptive unconscious,” the part of our brain that tells also us to jump out of the way of a moving truck. The amazing revelations in this book are how we trust and then sometimes disregard our own “adaptive unconscious,” and how we can teach instinctive reactions.

In this book, Gladwell explains that we should pay attention to our instantaneous impressions and conclusions because decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

This, for example, is demonstrated by medical malpractice suits. Even when simultaneous medical information and medication details were shared between patient and doctor, the study revealed that 50% of the doctors were never sued and the other half had been sued at least twice. Those who had never been sued spent only three minutes longer with each patient than those who were sued (18.3 minutes vs. 15 minutes). “The difference was entirely in how they talked to their patients.”

First impressions are powerful; therefore, our first impressions can be educated and controlled. Gladwell cautions that several factors, such as height, weight, hair color and style, age, and gender can derail our judgment. This theory can be applied to hiring practices. Even though each company has slightly different hiring practices, employees are often hired based on first impressions.

As an example, orchestras were typically dominated by white men. In the summer of 1980, the Munich Orchestra changed its audition practices to “blind auditions.” By changing their audition processes, they realized that “blind auditions” helps judges to fairly assess each musician on their performance and talent without being distracted by other factors. Not only have more women and minorities gotten into top orchestras, but the music is better.

Blink is a fascinating read that offers a lot of thought-provoking insights. I suggest you grab this one!

Laurie Gungel
Director, Business Institute

1 Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, New York 2005


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Business Institute
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August 2007