published on Monday, February 21, 2005 in The Miami Herald
Quick decisions with the blink of an eye.
the ability to assess situations with lightning speed can be a very
useful skill in the fast-paced business world
BY RICHARD PACHTER
The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Malcolm Gladwell. Little,
Brown and Co. 288 Pages
Sometimes first impressions are the most telling. Often, one can
tell a lot by observing only a small portion of an interaction.
And frequently you can judge a book by its cover.
But not always.
In business, it is sometimes possible to draw broad conclusions
quickly, while other times, what we consider ''obvious'' is not
at all, and a closer look is required.
Writer Malcolm Gladwell kept his hair short for most of his life,
but when the author of the influential and best selling book The
Tipping Point let his kinky hair grow long, policemen suddenly
began to stop him on the street for questioning. This triggered
the not-terribly profound idea that the cops thought Gladwell looked
like a person who would commit a crime.
The writer began an exploration of ''thin slicing,'' which he defines
as ``the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations
and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.''
He writes: ``Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central
part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet
a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter
a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come
to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out
there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details
of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can
tell us an awful lot.
'It is striking, for instance, how many different professions and
disciplines have a word to describe the particular gift of reading
deeply into the narrowest slivers of experience. In basketball,
the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening
around him or her is said to have `court sense.' In the military,
brilliant generals are said to possess 'coup d'oeil' -- which, translated
from French, means 'power of the glance': the ability to immediately
see and make sense of the battlefield.''
Gladwell, an engaging and elegant writer, introduces experts in
a variety of fields -- art appraisers, military tacticians, food
scientists, historians, psychologists, car salesmen, doctors and
others who make remarkably accurate assessments by thin slicing.
He explores the experience of people who also know when to slow
things down and focus on a few important aspects of a situation
rather than the entire scenario. For example, emergency medical
professionals in Chicago learned to disregard some apparently important
symptoms when evaluating possible heart attack victims. It seemed
counterintuitive, but the accuracy of the diagnoses rose dramatically.
The tragic case of Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times by New York City
police, who thought the Nigerian immigrant had drawn on them first,
is also dissected by Gladwell. Experts maintain that events had
unnecessarily accelerated and slowing things down would have avoided
many of the erroneous assumptions that led to the Diallo's death.
Clock management, as evidenced by a recent Super Bowl, is often
the difference between success and failure -- or life and death.
Gladwell's thoughtful book may just reveal the tip of an iceberg,
but I'd conclude from this thin but meaty slice that we all need
to learn when -- and when not to -- blink. Our survival may depend
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