Book Review: “blink”

Everbody knows the saying “there’s no second chance for the first impression”. In Malcolm Gladwell’s latest publication blink it’s all about first impressions, unconscious decision-making and knowledge gained in the blink of an eye. After his first publication, the Tipping Point, in which the author talks about mass phenomena and the prerequisites for starting trends (you can find the book review – written in German – in my German blog), this book is once more a well-researched look into the human psyche.

Gladwell uses a number of real-life examples to make the reader realise how people’s intuition is on the one hand way superior to careful and thorough reflection, but on the other can also be quite misleading. In the first chapter, for instance, he talks about the case of  a Greek statue, which everybody at the Getty Museum in California thought to be real, but which was revealed to be fake by some experts although at first, they could not point their finger on what exactly was wrong about it. According to the author, this is the fundamental problem we have when trying to understand the  unconscious decision-making apparatus in our minds: it’s mostly inaccessible.

This is why, at times, first impressions can be quite misleading, which Gladwell exemplifies by describing racial prejudice and the so called Warren Harding error: Warren Harding was the 29th president of the United States and was merely voted into office because he looked and sounded like an ideal president. However, later on it became clear that he had been utterly incompetent and is still known to be the worst president of the United States ever. (This position might be seriously challenged by one recent GWB, but I don’t want to get too political here.) There are other examples which do not seem entirely convincing, like the “test-war” between a well-organised blue team and a snap decision red team, and the taste comparisions between Coca Cola and Pepsi. Here the author stretches his arguments a little too far for my taste, which already occurred in The Tipping Point.

Besides all theory, there are also practical implications for the daily work in the IT world – especially as a freelancer – which can be gathered from blink. Gladwell talks about “thin-slicing”, ie. the way in which often one only needs a thin slice of information to be able to judge the whole issue. This concept of a “low information diet” is quite valuable when thinking about the inconquerable amounts of information we collect through channels like blogs, social networks and Twitter. What the author actually states – and he gives an convincing example of diagnosing chest-pain – is that too much information often clutters our view and makes deciding harder or even impossible. Usually we only need some core facts and we are fine.

Thinking about the value of first impressions should to some extent also direct our decisions as eCommerce-ians: What does a well-designed and carefully coded webshop mean for our businesses when, in the blink of an eye, potential customers deem our offerings to be untrustworthy and unprofessional?

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