Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink was an interesting book about the first two seconds of looking–the decisive glance that knows in an instant. I just finished reading it on my Kindle. The book centers on the concept of how fast we really do make judgments, called “thin slicing”, and how deeper analysis can sometimes provide less information than more. It is all about cognitive speed. If that doesn’t make any sense at all, its hard enough to try to explain.  I made a lot of notes on the book and I’d like to share them with you here, there is a lot of information here.

“There is one emotion that he considers the most important of all: contempt, if Gottman observes one or both partners in a marriage showing contempt toward the other, he considers it the single most important sign that the marriage is in trouble.”

“What it suggests is that it is quite possible for people who never met us and who have spent only twenty minutes thinking about us to come to a better understanding of who we are than people who have known us for years. Forget the endless “getting to know” meetings and lunches, then. If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.”

“Sometimes we’re better of if the mind behind the locked door makes our decisions for us.” (the guy instinct, he is referring to, that we get in a blink of an eye about something)

(in reference to 6 minute speed dating) “If you are enjoying the connection, time goes quickly. If you aren’t, it’s the longest six minutes of your life,” she said contagious, winning spark. “You know, girls are really smart,” Jon, a medical student in a blue suit said at the end of the evening. “They know in the first minute, Do I like this guy, can I take him home to my parents, or is he just a wham-bam kind of jerk?” Jon is quite right, except it isn’t just girls who are smart. When it comes to thin-slicing potential dates, pretty much everyone is smart.” (in reference that within just a short time, we really can gather enough information about something to make a decision yes/no)

“We need to accept our ignorance and say, ‘I don’t know’ more often.”

“Most of us, in ways that we are not entirely aware of, automatically associate leadership ability with imposing physical stature. We have a sense of what a leader is supposed to look like, and that stereotype is so powerful that when someone fits it, we simply become blind to other considerations.

“If you buy a car from Bob Golomb, he will be on the phone to you the next day, making sure everything is all right. If you come to the dealership but don’t end up buying anythimg, he’ll call you the next day, thanking you for stopping by. “You always have to put on your best face, even if you are having a bad day. You leave that behind.”

(in reference to trying to remove prejudice) “It requires more than simple commitment to equality. It requires that you change your life so that you are exposed to minorities on a regular basis and become comfortable with them and familiar with the best of their culture.”

“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can be easily snuffed out” (in reference to that even though we might in a blink get a gut-feeling of something, we can easily be fooled and misinterpret the situation)

There are, I think, two important lessons here. The first is that truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”

“The second lesson is that in good decision making, frugality matters. John Gottman took a complex problem and reduced it to its simplest elements: even the most complicated of relationships and problems, he showed, have an identifiable underlying pattern.”

“Because buying jam is a snap decision. You say to yourself, instinctively, I want that one. And if you are given too many choices, if you are forced to consider much more than your unconscious is comfortable with, you get paralyzed. Snap judgments can be made in a snap because they are frugal, and if we want to protect our snap judgements, we have to take steps to protect that frugality” (in reference to most times we over-load ourselves with to much information and block ourselves from taking decision action in the right step because we have to many choices, or to much information to think of a good decision quickly)

“Cheskin was convinced that when people give an assessment of something they might buy in a supermarket or a department store, without realizing it, the transfer sensations or impressions they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself. To put it in another way, Cheskin believed that most of us don’t make a distinction–on an unconscious level– between the package and the product.”

“They served two hundred people Christian Brothers Brandy out of an E & J bottle, and the E & J Brandy out of a Christian Brothers bottle. Which brandy won? The Christian Brothers, hands-down, by the biggest margin of all. Now they had the right taste, the right brand, and the right bottle. The company redesigned their bottle to be alot more like E & J’s, and, sure enough, their problem was solved” (E&J and Christian Brothers are both brandy drink companies. What they found during taste testing, that regardless of which companies brandy was in E&J’s bottle people said it tasted better than the Christian Bottles bottle. Even though they swaped the acutal drink between the two bottle, when ever people drank the brandy out of the E&J bottle it was better, even if it wasn’t E&J brandy in it. It even went as far to say that the taste testers said now that Christian Brothers’ Brandy that was in E&J, tasted better than the E&J in the Christian Brother’s Bottle.

“The general rule is, the closer consumers get to the food itself, the more consumers are going to be conservative. What that means for Hector is that in this case he needs to look pretty literal. You want to have the face as a recognizable human being that you can relate to. Typically, close-ups of the face work better than full-body shots. We tested Hector in a number of different ways. Can you make the ravioli taste better by changing him?” (in reference to ravioli can on the store shelfs)

“Masten picked up a can of Hormel canned meat. “We did this, too. We tested the Hormel logo.” He pointed at the tiny sprig of parsley between the r and the m. “That little bit of parsley helps bring freshness to the canned food.”

“When Del Monte took the peaches out of the tin and put them in a glass container, people said, ‘Ahh, this is something like my grandmother used to make.’ People say peaches taste better when they come in a glass jar. Just like ice cream in a cylindrical container as opposed to a rectangular package. People expect it’s going to taste better.”

“When you are in product development world, you become immersed in your own stuff, and it’s hard to keep in mind the fact that the customers you go out and see spend very little time with your product,” says Dowell. “they know the experience of it then and there. But they don’t have any history with it, and it’s hard for them to imagine a future with it, especially if it’s something very different. That was the thing with the Aeron chair. Office chairs in people’s minds had a certain aesthetic. They were cushioned and upholstered. The Aeron chair o course isn’t. It looked different. There was nothing familiar about it. Maybe the wod ‘ugly’ was just a proxy for ‘different.'”

“if the Aeron had just been a minor variation on the chair that came before it– the act of measuring consumer reactions would not have been nearly as difficult. But testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and most successful companies are those that understand in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation. We like market research because it provides certainty– a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number. But the truth is that for most important decisions, there can be no certainty.”

The first impressions of experts are different. By that I don’t mean that experts like different things than the rest of us–although that is undeniable. When we become expert in something our tastes grow more esoteric and complex. What I mean is that it is really only experts who are able to reliably account for their reactions.”

“If you were to approach a one-year-old child who sits playing on the floor and do something a little bit puzzling, such as cupping your hands over hers, the child would immediately look up to your eyes. Why? Because what you have done requires explanation, and the child knows that she can find an answer on your face.”

“But one of the things that Van Riper taught me was that being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after long and rigorous course of education and experience. Van Riper beat Blue Team because of what he had learned about waging war in the jungles of Vietnam. And he also beat Blue Team because of what he had learned in that library of his. Van Riper was a student of military history.”

It’s the kind of wisdom that someone acquires after a lifetime of learning and watching and doing. It’s judgment. And what Blink is–what all the stories and studies and arguments add up to–is an attempt to understand this magical and mysterious thing called judgment.”

Judgment matters: it is what separates winners from losers.”

“Hooker choked, and I hope that after reading this far, you recognize the characteristics signs of judgment’s fragility. From experience, we gain a powerful gift, the ability to act instinctively, in the moment. But–and this is one of the lessons I tried very hard to impart in Blink–it is easy to disrupt this gift.”

“This is the second lesson of Blink: understanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled. There’s a third lesson in the Chancellorsville story, and in the time since Blink was published I’ve come to think that it is the most important lesson of all. Lee outthought Hooker, even though he knew far less about Hooker’s army than Hooker knew about his. Hooker was the only one who knew exactly how many soldiers his enemy had. Hooker was the one who had two hot-air balloons up in the sky giving him perfect aerial reconnaissance of his enemy’s position. Le won the battle despite knowing less than Hooker. But now that you’ve read Blink, you’ll know that I think we ought to turn that sentence around, and say that probably Lee won the battle because he knew less than Hooker.”

(in reference to instead of pre-judging musicians before they stepped on the stage to see if they were good enough to be hired, they would put a screen so the reviewers couldn’t see the person and would just rate the performance based on the music alone, not their appearance, not their sex, not their race.) “It was only when the screen went up that the maestros’ judgment was restored. Think about it. How much of the “information” in an audition is visual? Seventy percent? Eighty percent? It’s mostly visual. An audition is supposed to be an exercise in listening. But mostly what we do is look. How is the musician dressed? Is she tall or short? How does she hold her instrument? How does she carry herself while she’s playing? In the classical music world, 80 percent of the information available to the maestros was removed, and lo and behold, the maestros suddenly exercised much better judgment. As I’ve talked to people about Blink over the past few years, I’ve been amazed at how often this point has come up. In fact, I would venture to say that no argument in the book has resonated more with readers than this one. We live in a world saturated with information. We have virtually unlimited amounts of data at our fingertips at all times, and we’re well versed in the arguments about the dangers of not knowing enough and not doing our homework. But what I have senses is an enormous frustration with the unexpected costs of knowing too much, of being inundated with information. We have to come to confuse information with understanding. “

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.”

(in reference to the court systems like the musicians, how some people are pre-judged before they even get to say anything are are condemned more often just because on peoples biased opinions.) I think that the accused in a criminal trial shouldn’t be in the courtroom. He or she should be in another room entirely, answering questions by e-mail or through the use of an intermediary. And I think that all evidence and testimony in a trial that tips the jury off to the age or race or gender of the defendant ought to be edited out.”

This is the real lesson of Blink: It is not enough to simply to explore the hidden recesses of our unconscious. Once we know about how the mind works–and about the strengths and weaknesses of human judgment–it is our responsibility to act”

That is all my notes from Blink, took awhile to read? I hope there was some valuable information here, it sure took a long time to type this all out! What’s your thoughts on this format after you have read the whole thing, is it good, did you find something like this with points highlighted from the book good. I put them all here, was it to much or to many? What’s your thoughts on the ideas, and more specifically this post, and if I should do more like this on each great note I can find and share with everyone!



  • I think that the book is brilliant, and appreciate the time you put into rehashing it. Instinct is everything — and interestingly, social norms sometimes weigh in heavily to discourage it. You can adopt so many prerequisites to the right decision, that you lose track of what you really want. I think that it’s the process of ridding yourself of those norms and narrowly honing into what you really, really want which creates successful entrepreneurs and more generally, happy people.


  • Rhen

    Great read. Was a bit long, but it did convince me to pick up a copy. I love books that delve into the weird universe of irrational human behavior, and why we act the way we do. This provided me a lot of insight on this topic. I think the more we understand why we act the way we are, the more we can understand and help ourselves and others achieve what we want.