Read & reviewed in June 2010
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a fun and interesting “popular economics” book to listen to. First, Gladwell sets up to demonstrate that our brains process information, make connections, and draw conclusions very rapidly and apart from our consciousness. In subsequent chapters he shows how such judgments, more intuitions or gut responses, are often more useful and accurate than the conscious, fully analytic reasoning that modernity prefers. However, he also shows situations in which they are less useful and can cause harm.
Two examples used are war and salesmanship. Which does he conclude is better in which scenario? Snap judgments, made in the midst of battle, were better than analytic processes. Unconscious bias, however, is damaging to salesmans’ bottom lines: the successful example salesman treated every person who came through the door as someone who was likely to make a purchase, no matter what contrary cues there might be.
Your unconscious judgment, Malcolm posits, can be trained; in fact, it is highly trainable and actually always developing. It picks up patterns and cues us to respond properly to them before we have become aware that there is a pattern. Repetition and repeated exposure — i.e. practice — are what train the subconscious pattern-recognition abilities.
A fascinating detail that was part of his development of pattern-recognition capabilities is that everything we do is touched by our personality. Individual patterns (signatures), like fingerprints, can be detected (even by a human alone, not only by computer analysis) even in the way we strike the keys on the keyboard. Nothing we do goes untouched by our personality. We are not machines. He took that a step farther and noted that relationships have such signatures, also. Once you are clued into what to look for, you see couples’ interactions almost always follow a recognizable pattern. The psychology professor who starred in that section of the book has honed his pattern-recognition skill and can detect the “divorce within 15 years” rate with 95% accuracy! Oddly, there was not even a whit of moral sentiment tied to this section, nor did he ever give even a breath about those in the 95% being able to do anything to save their marriage. Nope. The couple had this particular, devastating pattern of interaction set up within their first few meetings, and it’s all inevitability from there. He did, at least, inform us that the trigger the psychologist has trained himself to see is contempt in all its subtle guises, and contempt is the kiss of death to a relationship — well, no kidding.
In another brief section he showed how when we attempt to explain our behavior that was prompted by intuition, we fail miserably and are completely and wildly inaccurate. And when we try to give reasons for our intuitive responses (that are not a product of rationalized reasoning), we are pretty much just making up something that sounds plausible. The two modes are separate and distinct and one cannot be explained in terms of the other. Moreover, we need both. There was a section on being rendered temporarily autistic if our intuitive side is shut off, but that CD was terribly scratched and I missed most of that part.
In all, an entertaining non-fiction read that was perfect background during menial tasks.