Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blink - Azara Feroz Sayed

The article in timesofindia on intuition refers to the book "blink" (metaphor "a blink of the eye" for intuition) by Malcom Galdwell prompting me to read the book which was also suggested in one of our training sessions.

'blink' is about how experts make better decisions by making "snap judgements" (rather than studying "volumes of analysis") especially when confronted with complex situations or need for decisions under stress.

As per 'blink', it is alright to judge a book by its cover so long as we do so in an intelligent, informed, controlled manner. Decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.

The power of knowing in the first two seconds (thin slicing),is not a gift given magically to a fortunate few. It is an ability that we can all cultivate for ourselves.

Our unconscious reactions often have to compete with our emotions, our likes, dislikes, prejudices and stereotypes and these emotions can easily corrupt (prime) the ability of our unconscious.

Also there are instances when our intuition betrays us. This failure on part of our unconscious has nothing to do with how much information we can process quickly, but on the few particular details on which we need to focus and manage (mind reading is an example).

As I was reading the book, I was wondering how the results of the numerous studies relating to "thin slicing", "priming", "mind reading" could be be applied to other aspects of our life e.g. customer service, recruitment, relationships apart from using them to manage our unconscious reactions

I have used the review from and have added ideas from the book that sounded interesting to me

In the introduction to Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, he tells the story of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s purchase of an ancient kouros dating from the sixth century BC. The museum had scientists perform test after test on the kouros to make sure it was authentic. It was concluded that the statue was most definitely the real thing, being thousands of years old. When art historians, however, took one look at the statue they knew that something was amiss and, sure enough, after a few more tests it was determined that the statue was artificially aged. Gladwell’s book is all about that one look the experts took of the korous to know that it was a fake. Blink is all about the snap judgments we make everyday and how we can use those judgments to make better decisions. This incident also brings an important aspect relating to intuition - the experts from Getty Museum's wanted to own the kourus and hence were blinded to their intution - we sometime ignore our intuition and try to see what we want to see.

Our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of any situation. The first is the one we are most familiar with. It's the conscious strategy. We think about what we have learned, and eventually we come up with an answer. This strategy is logical and definitive. This takes a long time (study of Iowa gamblers - takes 80 cards for decision). It is slow and needs lots of information. The second strategy operates quicker(study of Iowa gamblers - decision kicks in 10 cards). It operates below the surface of consciousness (a.k.a. adaptive unconscious - not to be confused with the dark unconscious decribed by freud) and provides messages thru indirect channels such as sweat glands in palms of our hands, feeling sommething is amiss, the hunch etc.

Adaptive unconscious is thought of, as a giant computer that quickly and quietky processes a lot of data that we need in order to keep functioning as human beings. The giant computer crunches all the data it can from the experiences we have had, the people we have met, the lessons we have learnt, the people we have met, the books we have read, the movies we have seen and so on and form a opinion When we walk out into the street and suddenly realize that a truck is bearing down on us - do we have time to think through all options - the unconscious makes very quick judgements based on very little information.

Just as a modern jetliner is able to fly on auto-pilot with little or no input from the human, comscious pilot - the adaptive unconscious does an excellent job of sizing up the world, warning people of danger, setting goals and initiating actions in a sophisticated and efficient manner.

Neurologist Antonio Damasio determinded that critical part of the brain, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which lies behind the nose, plays a critical role in decision making. It works out contigencies and relatioships and sorts through mountains of information we get from the outside world, priortitizing it and putting flags on things that demand immediate attention. Damage is ventromedial disconnects between waht you know and what you do like Addicts who can articulate very well the consequences of their behaviour but fail to act accordingly. People with damaged vetromedial were not able to sense the pricking of sweat in their hands or feel something is amiss - the push to make sure they did the right thing is missing in them.

We toggle back and forth between our conscious and unconscious modes of thinking, depending on the situation. When we decision to invite a co-worker over for dinner is a conscious. We think it over. We decide it will be fun. The spontaneous decision to argue with the same co-worker is made unconsciously.

We are innately suspicious of adaptive unconscious, of rapid congnition as we live in a world that assumes that the quality of the a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it. When doctors are faced with a difficult diagnosis, they order more tests and when we are uncertain about what we hear, we ask for second opinion. We are conditioned with 'Haste makes waste', 'Look before you leap', 'Stop and think'. There are moments, particularly in times of stress, when our 'snap judgements' and 'first impressions' can offer a much better means of making sense of the world.

One of the amazing studies comes from a psychologist, John Gottman, at the University of Washington. Gottman brings young couples, who have recently married, to his lab and videotapes them for fifteen minutes. He leaves them alone and has them discuss anything that is a point of conflict within their marriage. Besides the camera, he also hooks the couples up to electrodes, which measure heart rate and how much they sweat, and also attaches a device to their chairs that measures how much they move around. Gottman then goes back and analyses the data and videotapes and is able to determine whether the couple will have a successful marriage. Gottman is a master of facial expressions. He has a numbering system that corresponds to every emotion a couple could possibly express in a conversation. Generally, if the negative emotions in the conversation outweigh the positive or neutral emotions the
success of the marriage does not look good. Although these results may look skeptical at first, Gottman has studied over three thousand couple and by looking at his fifteen minute videos has had a ninety percent success rate for determining whether a couple will still be together in seven years - all based on measiring the positive and negative emotions in 15 minutes of conversation.

Although Gottman’s work is conscious and deliberate, Gladwell notes that much of what he does is part of rapid cognition or what he refers to as “thin-slicing.” Gottman finds patterns(positive and negative emotions) in behavior based on very “thin slices” (15 minutes) of couple's experience rather than analysing individual life and life together over a week or longer. Galdwell ignores all the greater details or irrelevant information and simply focuses on the positive and negative emotions in the 15 minutes of conversation. Our unconscious is really good at this (ignoring irrelevant information and focusing on the thing that matters most) and it is a large part of the snap judgment calls we make everyday.

The study for calculating risk by determining which of the physicians covered by the company are more likely to be sued is one more very good example of "thin-slicing". Rather than examining physicians training and credentials and analyzing the records to see how many errors they have made over the past few years. It was found that the easier option was to simply listen to the tone of the voice used by the doctor while talking to the patient for two seconds - to determine the likely hood of the patient sueing the doctor. This 'thin slice" was selected based on the fact that if the doctor treats patients on a personal level - they will never blame the doctor even if the doctor is wrong - rest all of the other information is irrelvant. Isn't that brilliant - wouldn't it be wonderful if we learnt to 'thin slice' and apply it to other aspects of our life to run it more efficiently, apart from knowing that this is what our unconcious uses while making "snap judgements" - by always questioning is this the "thinnest" slice for such a decision that we can use routinely henceforth.

Another example of "thin slicing" is a study done by Nalini Amabdy where the teacher's effectiveness ratings provided by students based on 2 second videotapes of a teacher - with the sound turned off - matched with those provided by students who sat in the teacher's class for an entire semester. The example illustrates the importance of "thin slicing" in decision making i.e. focusing on the relevant information (2 secs video tape) needed to arrive at the decision and ignoring everything else (feedback over one semester).

Feroz uses "thin slicing" all the time with movies, books - he watches a movie for 10 minutes or reads 5 pages of a book and decides if it is worth his time. An example of the ability to extract an enormous amount of meaningful information from the thinnest slice of experience.

The chapter on Kenna's Dilema mentions about 'The Gambler' song by Kenny Roger. Me and Feroz are Kenny Roger fans but Feroz will never get tired of hearing his songs and the CD keeps playing for hours once it goes in.

Since the "snap judgements" are unconscious processes, it can be frustrating that we can not even describe why we feel or act a certain way when prompted by a stimulus. Gladwell believes that it is often detrimental to our judgments if we try to describe what is happening within our unconscious.

Galdwell gives the example of tennis coach Vic Braden. While working with professional athletes, Braden began asking players how and why they play the way they do. In his research, Braden discovered that none of the athletes he talked with were able to give him a consistent answer to his question. Braden then began videotaping star tennis players and digitizing their movements so that he could see, frame for frame, ever move they made, while, say, hitting a forehand. When asking players how they hit a forehand, Braden found that most said something about using their wrist to roll the racket over the ball. The videos, however, show that the wrist almost never moves until long after the ball has been hit. These players were making up stories to explain something that occurred within their unconscious. The results of these stories were coaches teaching faulty advice and beginners walking away with wrist damage.

Gladwell remarks that one of the things humans need to come to terms with is accepting our ignorance in many situations and learning to say “I don’t know.” Many of the outputs of our nervous system result from unconscious inputs, therefore making it often useless to try and explain ourselves.

Adaptive unconscious also involves a process called “priming”. Gladwell mentions the study of two Dutch researchers who had several groups of students each answer forty-two Trivial Pursuit questions. Half were asked to take five minutes to think about
what it would mean to be a professor and write it down, while the other half were asked to do the same with soccer hooligan in place of professor. The students who thought about professors ended up getting 55.6 percent of the questions correct, while the soccer group got 42.6 percent correct. The professor group wasn’t any smarter than the soccer group, but they were put in a “smart” mind frame before answering the questions.

The several studies provided on "priming" are interesting. Priming is the dark side of rapid cognition, a process that goes on within the adaptive unconscious that can change the way we think. Most of the time we are simply operating on auto pilot, and the way we think and act - and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment - are more susceptible to outside influences than we realize. If you were provided lot of info relating to old age - your walking style will be slighlty affected immediately as you get out of the session i.e. you are "primed" with the information - your conscious tells your body - I have picked some clues that we are in an environment that is concerned about old age and lets behave accordingly. There are times when we reach snap jusdgement without ever getting below the surface. The priming (powerful associations with certain words) that causes us to change our behaviour can also be related to people's appearence - their shape, color, sex, size. Warren Harding is considered to be one of the worst presidents of US. Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate - and entirely unwarranted - conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity. They didn't dig below the surface. The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks. Priming is the root of a good deal of prejudice and discrimination. Knowing the circumstances when rapid cognition can lead us astray is important

When we make a split-second decision, we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereo types and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe

The studies on priming are done using Implicit Association Test Tool (IAT - url based on the fact that we make connections much more quickly between pairs of ideas that are already related in our minds than we do between pairs of ideas that are unrelated to us. The IAT shows that our unconcious attitudes maybe utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. The IAT is also a predictor of how we act in certain kinds of spontaneous situations. To fix the effect of priming, the something that happens outside of our awareness - we need to consciously change the experiences that formed our first impressions - i.e. treating black people as equals in every way by exposing oursleves to their culture, becoming comfortable with them - taking active steps to manage and control the first impressions

Several of the examples in the study for "priming" relate to the attributes that are associated with blacks (part of Race IAT) and how that "primes" our judgements. Once again, made me thank God for not having to struggle as hard as some of our other fellow beings have to - to achieve anything based on the social "priming". We saw in the post on 'Taming the Gremlin' - how we can shut off the "priming" effect of the unconscious. The scary revealations provided by the IATs can certainly be used in many areas. To ensure the right person is recruited and not necessarily a 'tall leader' as we automatically associate leadership with imposing physical structure. To ensure excellent customer service is provided without judging anyone on the basis of their appearance.

One of the most memorable stories Gladwell tells relates back to the lesson of the korous and trusting gut reactions over vast amounts of empirical evidence. This story involves a man named Paul Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge War Games of 2002. Van Riper, an experienced Marine Corps commander, was appointed head of the Red Team; the enemy team in which Van Riper was a rogue military commander who had broken away from his government located in the Persian Gulf. He was to have a strong following of religious and ethnic loyalties and was harboring four different terrorist organizations (sound familiar?). The Blue Team (the United States) was given millions of dollars worth of high-tech gizmos and hundreds of military analysts, as well as significantly more troops. The Blue Team was given the equipment to know exactly where the Red Team was at all times, and supposedly all the information to know what the Red Team would do before they actually did it. The events of the games, however, did not go exactly as the Blue Team had expected. On the second day of the “war,” Van Riper used motor bikes to exchange messages rather than using satellite etc that the Blue team was expecting them to use. He sent a fleet of small boats into the Gulf to track the ships of the Blue Team. He than attacked them in an assault of missiles, sinking sixteen American ships before the Blue Team had a chance to strike. Being an experienced military man, Van Riper knew what all the analysts and technology whizzes working for the Blue Team could never understand: when making decisions under immense pressure, experts won’t logically and systematically compare all available information. That takes far too long. Experts know to thin-slice the situation based on experience, wisdom, intuition, a rough mental simulation, and react to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, this method did not sit well with the United States Military. Those in charge of the War Games “un-sunk” the lost ship and gave Van Riper a script to act from, in which the Blue Team, of course, won. After hearing this story, is it any surprise that shortly after when the U.S. declared war on Iraq, ensuring a straight-forward and quick victory, that troops are still being sent over and loosing their lives? Van Riper’s story provides a frightening example of what can happen when people in high places venomously ignore their snap judgments.

blink is about making sophisticated decisions at the spur of the moment. Basket ball is an intricate, high speed game filled with split-second spontaneous decisions. But the spontaneity is acheived by hours of practice as sponteneity isn't random. How good people's decisions are under high stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training, rules and rehearsal. We need to create conditions for sucessful spontaneity in advance.

A truly sucessful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. Deliberate thinking is wonderful tool when we have the luxury of time, clearly defined tasks. The fruit of this type of analysis can set the stage for rapid cognition. In good decision making, frugality matters i.e. reducing a complex problem to simplest elements. When we thin-slice, we understand the underlying pattern of the problem unconscioulsy i.e. we 'edit' the problem for frugality. We get in trouble when we are not able to 'edit' the problem. When people were provided choice of 70 jams - they were paralyzed with the choices and were not able to decide. Snap judgements are made in a snap because they are frugal. We need to have steps to get to the frugality of the problem for snap judgements to happen.

The ability to operate without having to explain constantly enables rapid cognition. This is a wonderful thought for managers to keep in mind when working with teams

People's first impressions are wrong as they mis-interpret their own feelings when presented with new and unusual information. It takes time to understand new information and to actually start appreciating it - till the time the information is understood it falls in wierd category. The new model of ergonomic chair was rejected by people in their first impression due to its different look and feel. People didn't have an history with the new model and hence it is difficult for them to imagine a future with it. There was nothing familiar in the ergo chair and hence the work 'ugly' was just a proxy for different. The problem with market research is that often it is simply too blunt an instrument to pick up this distinction between the bad and the merely different. Testing ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the impressions of their consumers need interpretation. Their is a caveat, the first impressions of experts don't fall in this category i.e. experts like different things than most of the people. When we become expert in something, our tastes grow more esoteric and complex. Experts know how to interpret and decode their snap judgements and first impressions.

It is not that if we have all the information, we can't lose. In the game of chess we can see the chess board, yet we don't win all the time. Managers try to know more and more about everything and this hinders them from performing optimally.

blink presents ideas relating to our spontaneity in making decisions relating to product. First of all the product is both the product and packing for people to make decision. Also the snap decision about products is a reaction to the evidence of taste buds, eyes, memories and imagination and is not related to one dimension. Hence it is important to service all the dimensions of the product. In the example of coke and pepsi - pepsi was busy working on branding while coke was busy on getting the sip test - it is important to remember that the product decisions are made not only on sip test. The triangle test - identify pepsi from three glasses two of which contain coke and one contains pepsi is a good example of how a good vocabulary of taste is needed to identify the pepsi glass and a shallow knowledge of colas won't do - we need to think about colas and become an expert on cola.

The practice of inferring the motivations and intentions of others is classic thin slicing. It is picking up on sublte, fleeting cues in order to read someone's mind.

Of course, there are cases in which using judgment can backfire. Take the case of the three police officers working in the South Bronx who came upon Amadou Diallo standing outside his apartment building at midnight. The officers immediately assumed that Diallo was a robber or drug-dealer due to the fact that he was out so late and black. When the officers yelled to Diallo to come talk with them he ran into the vestibule of his house trying to open the inside door. The officers say that Diallo began reaching into his pockets, pulling out what appeared to be a gun. The officers fired forty-one shots, mutilating Diallo’s body. When the three officers went up to look at they man they had just killed, it turned out that what had been in his hand was a wallet and not a gun at all. In this case Gladwell believes that the officers experienced a condition he calls “temporary autism,” in which a person under incredibly high stress (heart rate of 175) is unable to interpret facial expressions, or unable to “mind read.” Because of past experiences, when Diallo turned to run they panicked due to the heightened stress of the situations, the police were not able to make clear judgments about the situation, such as reading the fear on Diallo’s face for malice. Mind reading is an ability that increases with practice

We don't have much control over whatever bubbles to the surface from our unconscious. If we can control the environment in which rapid congnition takes place than we can control rapid cognition - we can prevent the people from fighting wars, polices from making mistakes etc


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