Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Book Summary

Why do we do the things we do when under pressure? Are split-second decisions natural, or can we train our minds to change our biases and reactions to stress?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, looks at thought processes when making decisions; in particular, our thought processes when making split second decisions.

When we make split-second decisions, we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe.

By understanding how these split-second decisions are made, from a psychological perspective, we can better understand the human psyche and come up with ways to better navigate some of these tough situations.

The rest of this post includes a summary of Blink, takeaways from Blink, and a reading recommendation for you.

Book Summary of Blink

How good people’s decisions are under the fast-moving, high-stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal.

You are out for a walk in the park at night. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a man walking.

In a split second, you have already made up your mind; he is out to get you and is not your friend.

Your heart starts racing, your pace picks up, you tense up.

What happened in that split second? Why did you make a quick judgement on that man?

Blink is all about examining situations like this, and getting to the root cause of the thoughts during these moments.

In Blink, Gladwell talks about the following three points:

  • Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.
  • When should we trust our instincts, and when should we be vary of them?
  • Snap judgments and first impressions can be controlled and educated.

Gladwell goes through various situations to discuss the concept of “thin-slicing”, making judgments based on a very small amount of information.

He talks about situations involving psychologists trying to determine if a marriage will end in divorce, outcomes of police and criminal encounters, emotion recognition, and war situations.

Let’s go into each of the three points listed above in more detail now.

Quick Decisions Can Sometimes Be Better than Thought Out Decisions

On straightforward decisions, deliberate analysis is best. On complex decisions, our unconscious thought processes may be superior.

Throughout the book, Gladwell discusses the concept of “thin-slicing”, or the unconscious mind’s ability to find patterns and meaning in the most fleeting “slices” of experience and impressions.

One interesting discussion from Blink is how quick decisions can sometimes be better than well thought out decisions.

Many times when we grow up as kids, we are told to think critically and logically.

However, thinking hard about a situation will not always lead to the desired result. Sometimes, going with a gut feeling is the right way to go for a tough decision.

When We Should Trust Our Instincts

Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

Analysis paralysis is a real detriment to a lot of people’s daily lives. Sometimes the best decisions are made with instinct and trusting that our guts are right.

An interesting rule of thumb is that making decisions should occur when you have between 40% and 70% of the relevant information on a situation.

You don’t need all of the information to make a decision, and sometimes your best guess will actually be the best!

Snap Judgments Can be Controlled and Educated

Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot.

Unfortunately, in a high stress environment, a person’s ability to read a situation will decline rapidly.

One example covered in Blink is the situation of a police officer shooting an unarmed man just because the man is holding a black leather wallet.

Since the police officer is under stress, and cannot fully understand the situation, they sometimes will make the wrong gut call.

However, operating under stress can be controlled through taking a walk, breathing long and deep breathes, and relaxing before going back into the heat of the moment.

Takeaways from Blink

With every book you read, it is a must to have takeaways and actionable items to implement in life.

One of the main points in Blink is we only need a little bit of information to make wise decisions if we can determine what is the right information.

For example, professional face readers can tell if you are lying just by looking at particular muscles and parts of your face. They don’t need to look at your whole face to get what’s going on.

The takeaway is if we can identify the key parts to a problem and make it simple, we can do a lot more with a little.

For example, personal finance is fairly complex. There are many different personal finance terms and concepts, and it can get confusing.

However, personal finance success is simple if you stick to the personal finance basics:

  • pay yourself first
  • save
  • invest periodically (dollar cost averaging)
  • don’t take on too much debt

It’s about finding and doing the simple things which will lead to a successful result.

By thinking critically and learning about what is crucial for success, and sifting through the noise, you can figure out what matters for you and your life.

There are many complex problems which can be reduced to simpler elements. Even in the most complicated of relationships and problems, there is a clear and identifiable pattern.

Our Recommendation for Blink

We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.

Blink is an enjoyable read, and a relatively quick read.

The main takeaways from Blink is humans are very vulnerable to our stereotypes and prejudices. We are also capable of making smart decisions with practice, rules, and repetition. Also, not everything needs to be explained. There are things we like because we like them and things we don’t like because we don’t like them.

Blink would be a fantastic book for you if you are interested in learning more about human’s thinking processes or decision making.

Readers: Do you ever catch yourself thinking, why did I make that split second decision?