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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Summary, Review, Notes

“Blink” is about how quickly our minds can process information. The power of the human mind to make quick decisions and judgments that are, for the most part, correct is one of the topics that Malcolm Gladwell investigates in this book.


Book Title— Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Malcolm Gladwell
Date of Reading— April 2023
Rating—   9/10

Table of Contents

What Is Being Said in Detail

Gladwell explores the concept that human instincts are typically accurate, despite the fact that there are no basic reasons why, and then proceeds to persuade readers that snap judgments and initial impressions can be controlled and educated.

He uses the phrase “thin slicing” to refer to the capability of seeing patterns in occurrences based just on limited slices of one’s life experience. Everyone learns early on in life how important it is to make a good first impression.

Evidence of split-second decisions and judgment is provided by Malcolm Gladwell, and it ranges from a former tennis player to medical doctors. Gladwell does, however, show how our preconceived notions might impede our mental processes. 

Gladwell goes so far as to explain how the result of a relationship (divorce or marriage) in ten years may be quantified and analyzed.

INTRODUCTION. The Statue That Didn’t Look Right

In 1983, an art dealer gave the J. Paul Getty Museum an offer to buy an old piece of art. 

The dealer said that the ancient Greek artifact was from the sixth century B.C. It was a kouros, which is a sculpture of a naked young man standing alone.

At first, the people in charge of the museum thought the statue was a fake. But it decided to buy the old thing after doing a lot of research to make sure it was real. 

It took the following fourteen months for core samples to be collected from the statue, ownership records to be verified, and the monument itself to be transported to Athens for examination by Greek sculpting specialists.

In 1986, the statue was finally bought by the museum, which was sure it was real. But after the museum put it on display, more experts began to question whether or not it was real.

Federico Zeri, an art historian from Italy, was one of them. He said something about the fingernails on the statue. 

Even though he can’t quite explain what he saw, he and the other experts all felt that there was something wrong with it. 

Because there was a new question about whether or not it was real, the museum gave the statue another round of tests, which showed that it could have been made or had parts fixed more than once in different parts of history.

Also, the investigators learned that data from a core sculpture test can be changed by putting it in a potato mold and letting it soak for a while. Even with all of these clues, the museum couldn’t find a clear answer.

As a result, the statue is on display in the museum, but a note comes with it which says: “About 350 BC, or modern forgery.” In the rest of the book, the author would often use this story to show how instinctive judgment is the main idea of the book.

So, Gladwell says that people have two ways to deal with situations: the conscious strategy and the subconscious strategy. 

With conscious strategy, we sort through the information we’ve already gathered to find an answer. With subconscious strategy, however, the brain uses unusual ways, like sweaty palms or a faster heart rate, to let us know that a conclusion has been reached that we can’t explain. 

Gerd Gigerenzer, a psychologist, says that it is a “fast and cheap” way to make decisions compared to making decisions consciously.

The part of our brain that is responsible for this fast thinking is called the “adaptive unconscious.” According to Gladwell, the adaptive unconscious is like a computer that quickly but patiently processes a huge amount of information so that we can function as humans.

Gladwell says that we are afraid of the adaptive unconscious because we were taught early on that we need to take our time to make good decisions. But Gladwell thinks that quick decisions are just as reliable as ones made after careful thought.

So, Gladwell wants to talk about three main points about instinctive judgment: first, they can be trusted; second, we need to learn when to listen to our instincts and when not to; and third, we can train and control our instincts. 

We might be able to look forward to more progress in our lives when quick decisions are given the same weight as careful thought.

CHAPTER 1. The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way

In this chapter, Gladwell introduces the idea of the “thin slice,” which refers to the way that our unconscious brains can make what are in many cases very correct evaluations in a very short length of time, frequently a matter of seconds. In other words, the “thin slice” relates to the way that our minds may make snap judgments.

Although Gladwell uses a variety of different concepts to show the efficacy of thin slicing, he cites the case of the work of a study team examining the interaction patterns and long-term compatibility of married couples as an example of the work they did.

As Gladwell was observing the study team, they would record married couples having a conversation about a topic that appeared to be unimportant, such as the possibility of getting a pet for the family. 

These interactions, on the surface, typically appeared to be suggestive of little more than fun humor and normal discourse. On the other hand, when the study team closely reviewed the filmed discussions, a different image would frequently emerge.

The team started to develop a method that, by analyzing the couple’s facial expressions, body language patterns, and gestures, may uncover several long-standing issues and grounds of disagreement in the marriage.

They discovered that even just a few seconds of the film might tell with a high degree of accuracy whether the pair will remain married throughout the course of their lifetime or not as their method of analysis got increasingly advanced. 

Later on, another group of researchers devised an experiment in which they allowed non-specialists to listen to brief snippets of audiotapes containing the voices of doctors.

Malcolm Gladwell Quote

The non-specialists were then able to draw very accurate conclusions regarding which of the doctors would be sued for malpractice as a result of their listening to the audiotapes. 

Gladwell comes to the conclusion that this proves that people have an innate ability to make thin slices of their environments.

Gladwell gives more evidence to back up his theory. One of them is an experiment that Samuel Gosling did that relates to the thick-slice vs. thin-slice debate. Its main goal was to find out if a close friend or a stranger can give a more accurate reading of a student’s personality traits. 

Strangely, just by looking at the subject’s dorm room for a few minutes, the stranger’s test results were more accurate than those of the subject’s longtime friends. 

This means that thin-slicing can be just as reliable as thick-slicing or analytical thinking. In the same way, it shows that we often thin slice, especially when we have to make quick decisions or judgments.


CHAPTER 2. The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions

The fact that our conscious brains frequently have little, or no grasp of this process is one of the characteristics of the mind’s capacity to quickly thin slice and make accurate judgements that might be one of the most perplexing parts of this talent. 

In fact, as Gladwell explains in this chapter, our ideas about how we make decisions are often horribly wrong. 

In addition, we frequently have a tendency to underestimate the degree of effect that external events have on the decision-making processes that occur below our conscious level.

In order to provide concrete examples of these concepts, Gladwell discusses the findings of numerous recent studies. In one of the studies, the participants were given a jumbled up set of words and instructed to construct phrases using those words.

The sentences had to contain certain hints, such as terms that described the idea of becoming older or being courteous. 

The participants finished the experiment without recognizing it, and then without realizing it, they began to instinctively adopt the behaviors that had been gently indicated to them in the seemingly random words that they had untangled. This was done without their knowledge.

The idea that Gladwell refers to as the “storytelling problem” illustrates the fact that we frequently generate stories of our behaviors and decisions that are entirely inaccurate. 

People seem to be uncomfortable with ambiguity by nature, so we unconsciously make up stories to explain why we make the decisions or do the things we do. This is called “thin slicing” our environment.

CHAPTER 3. The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men

In this chapter, Gladwell admits that fast thinking can be bad in some ways. He uses Warren Harding, the 29th President of the United States, as an example. 

Harding was a very attractive man. Everything about him, from his body to his voice to the way he carried himself, gave off an air of authority that people found very appealing.

When he was elected president, it wasn’t a big surprise, but he turned out to be one of the least effective presidents in US history. Gladwell calls this a weakness of thin slicing the Warren Harding error. 

In particular, he says that gender, race, and physical appearance have big effects on how people think and feel. This is because, as we’ve already talked about, our subconscious can be influenced by both what we say and how we look.

Warren Harding was elected president, which is a strong proof of Gladwell’s point. Americans thought that he would be a strong president because he was good-looking and seemed to have a lot of respect for himself. They couldn’t have been more wrong, though.

Often, our unconscious feelings don’t match what we know to be true. Gladwell uses the Implicit Association Test to make this point clear (IAT). 

People may not want to or be able to say what they think and feel on the test. For example, the primed associations between the words “Male” and “Career” are very strong.

The same is true for “Female” and “Family.” As a result, the people who took part in the experiment quickly linked the words to the concepts. But it was harder for them to make the connections when the words “Male” and “Family” were changed to “Female” and “Career.” 

The experiment indicated that when the constructs were switched, responders took a bit longer to generate the connections, suggesting that the adaptive unconscious had to re-process the trained mental links between career and men and family and women.

Gladwell also talks about an experiment done by Ian Ayers in the early 1990s. 

This experiment showed that salesmen charged more for cars for women and African American customers than for white male customers. Gladwell says that the salesmen’s “adaptive unconscious” had been trained to act this way with these kinds of customers.

Of course, the dealers lost sales money because their customers left them because they weren’t fair and honest. 

Gladwell, on the other hand, thinks that we can learn from the IAT experiment that we can change our adaptive unconscious by seeing images that don’t fit our stereotypes.

For example, if we looked at pictures of women in management positions or went to workplaces where men and women are treated equally, our subconscious would be able to re-process what we’ve learned faster. 

Since first impressions are based on how we react to different situations and environments, we can change how we thin-slice by choosing the experiences that shape our attitudes and values.

CHAPTER 4. Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity

In this chapter, Gladwell talks about another thing that can make it hard for us to make good decisions: having too much information. 

In each of the several scenarios that he goes over, such as deciding who gets priority in an emergency department, performing improvised comedy, and conducting war exercises in the military.

When decision makers look at too much information, it can throw them off and make them confused. In the instance of Paul Van Riper, Gladwell describes the unconventional outlook on the military held by one of the United States Marine officers who has received the most decorations.

When Van Riper had retired, a military exercise that was part of the preparations for the invasion of the Persian Gulf in 2003 requested him to play the position of a deviant Middle Eastern leader. In this capacity, he was expected to act as if he were a terrorist.

Malcolm Gladwell Quote 2

The opposing team, which was supposed to represent the United States military, arrived at the exercise with a multitude of data and frequently took a break from the battle to engage in lengthy sessions of analysis.

The team led by Van Riper adopted the opposite strategy, which consisted of making fast judgments in order to take daring risks whenever the opportunity arose. 

With the help of this strategy, the team led by Van Riper was able to gain a strategic edge over the American team in a very short amount of time.

In a similar manner, a physician working in an emergency department was the first to develop a method that accurately diagnoses heart attacks while using far less information than was customary at the time. 

According to Gladwell, the finest judgments are frequently those that are made by relying on a little amount of high-quality information.


CHAPTER 5. Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right-and Wrong-Way to Ask People What They Want

In this chapter, we will discuss an additional component of the decision-making process, namely the setting in which a judgment is formulated. 

The majority of Gladwell’s examples and case studies are taken from the marketing field and focus groups. Gladwell uses a variety of examples and case studies.

His primary argument is that in many circumstances, individuals will make the incorrect quick judgment if they are asked to determine something that is outside of their range of knowledge. 

He says this happens when people are asked to decide something that is beyond their area of knowledge. Moreover, Gladwell argues that it is exceedingly difficult for individuals to make appropriate conclusions when an issue is removed from the typical environment in which it normally exists.

In a nutshell, he contends that the majority of the time, focus groups are unable to provide accurate evaluations. 

This is due to the fact that focus groups both push the participants’ expertise to its limits and remove the product evaluation decision from the normal context in which it would normally be made.

Gladwell talks about two situations where focus groups and experts came to very different conclusions. One was about the musician Kenna’s chances of making it big on Top 40 radio, and the other was the famous blind taste test between Coke and Pepsi. 

He says that for market research to be useful, it should be as close as possible to the real situation in which a product, like rock music or soda, will be used.


CHAPTER 6. Seven Seconds in the Bronx: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading

In this chapter, Gladwell describes some of the bad outcomes that can occur when a series of incorrect judgements are made in fast succession. These results can range from the loss of a job to the loss of a relationship to the loss of a child.

The author presents the execution of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant, at the hands of police from the New York Police Department as a case study illustrating how mistakes in judgment can snowball into more serious problems. 

By providing a concise summary of the history of mind reading, Gladwell sets the stage for the subsequent debate and gives context for it.

Even though this activity has been linked to fake psychics for a long time, the author points out that researchers and experts who have done intense, long-term studies of how people’s faces change have been able to show a higher level of perception and insight into how other people feel and think on the inside.

On the other hand, people whose brains have been damaged in specific ways or who suffer from conditions like autism are unable to read the expressions on other people’s faces, which greatly hinders their capacity to operate normally in social situations. 

According to Gladwell, the type of adrenaline surge that is produced as a result of high-speed pursuits can lead the brain to simulate autism, which momentarily inhibits one’s capacity to decipher facial expressions. 

The author says that this was probably the cause of Diallo’s death, which seemed hard to explain.

CONCLUSION. Listening with Your Eyes the Lessons of Blink

In a short conclusion, Gladwell talks about how a simple change in how auditions were done started a revolution in the classical music world, which had a lot of long-held traditions. 

Screens were used to hide the identities of the applicants at one particular audition held by an orchestra.

This was done due to the fact that the son of an administrator was participating in the audition, and it was thought that favoritism may adversely affect the selection process. 

Strange things started to take place when more orchestras began to adopt this method, such as a sudden increase in the number of women and members of underrepresented groups in orchestras. 

In the era of anonymous auditions, merit was able to triumph over the numerous biases that had long held sway in the selection process in the period of non-anonymous auditions.

In the end of the book, Gladwell encourages readers to take this lesson to heart and apply the lessons they’ve learned from Blink to their own decision-making processes so that they may make good changes.

Most Important Keywords, Sentences, Quotes

INTRODUCTION. The Statue that Didn’t Look Right

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to  come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”

“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering  candle that can easily be snuffed out.”


CHAPTER 1. The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way

“In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning.”

“Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way[…] 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.”

“We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it…We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible an depending as much time as possible in deliberation.

Malcolm Gladwell Quote 3

We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. 

The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”


CHAPTER 2. The Locked Door: The Secret Life of Snap Decisions

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”

“When we become expert in something, our tastes grow more esoteric and complex.”

“Anyone who has ever scanned the bookshelves of a new girlfriend or boyfriend or peeked inside his or her medicine cabinet understands this implicitly; you can learn as much or more from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to a public face.”

CHAPTER 3. The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark, and Handsome Men

“[Research] suggests that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.”

“We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction.”

“Being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous of education and experience.”

“The answer is that we are not helpless in the face of our first impressions. They may bubble up from the unconscious from behind a locked door inside of our brain – but just because something is outside of awareness doesn’t mean it’s outside of control.”


CHAPTER 4. Paul Van Riper’s Big Victory: Creating Structure for Spontaneity

“Often a sign of expertise is noticing what doesn’t happen.”

“[…]mediocre people find their way into positions of authority…because when it comes to even the most important positions, our selection decisions are a good deal less rational than we think.”

“People are in one of two states in a relationship,” Gottman went on. “The first is what I call positive sentiment override, where positive emotion overrides irritability. It’s like a buffer. 

Their spouse will do something bad, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, he’s just in a crummy mood.’ Or they can be in negative sentiment override, so that even a relatively neutral thing that a partner says gets perceived as negative.”


CHAPTER 5. Kenna’s Dilemma: The Right-and Wrong-Way to Ask People What They Want

“Understanding the true nature of instinctive decision making requires us to be forgiving of those people trapped in circumstances where good judgment is imperiled.”

“Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way. 

I think that approach is a mistake, and if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgements. 

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.”

“The entire principle of a blind taste test was ridiculous. They shouldn’t have cared so much that they were losing blind taste tests with old Coke, and we shouldn’t at all be surprised that Pepsi’s dominance in blind taste tests never translated to much in the real world. Why not? Because in the real world, no one ever drinks Coca-Cola blind.”


CHAPTER 6. Seven Seconds in the Bronx: The Delicate Art of Mind Reading

“Extreme visual clarity, tunnel vision, diminished sound, and the sense that time is slowing down. this is how the human body reacts to extreme stress.”

“[…] our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room. but with experience we become expert at using our behavior and our training to interpret and decode what lies behind our snap judgment and first impressions.”

“In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates very ‘gifted’ improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a high degree of skill. Good improvisers develop action.”

“The real me isn’t the person I describe, not the real me is the me revealed by my actions.”

CONCLUSION. Listening with Your Eyes the Lessons of Blink

“Whenever we have something that we are good at–something we care about–that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions.”

“But in the end, it comes down to a matter of respect, and the simplest way that respect is communicated is through tone of voice, and the most corsive tone of voice that a doctor can assume is a dominant tone.”

Malcolm Gladwell Quote 4

“Some people look like they sound better than they actually sound, because they look confident and have good posture,” once musician, a veteran of many auditions, says. 

“Other people look awful when they play but sound great. Other people have that belabored look when they play, but you can’t hear it in the sound. There is always this dissonance between what you see and hear.”

“Our power of thin-slicing and snap judgment is extraordinary. But even the giant computer in our unconscious needs a moment to do its work.”

Book Review (Personal Opinion):

The main idea of “Thinking without Thinking” is that a person’s mind can understand and analyze a situation before their conscious mind does.

Because of the connections made in society, the mind can figure out the details of a situation. Gladwell jumps from story to story as he talks about things like priming, selective processing, and expertise, but he always comes back to the idea of “thin slicing.”

His style of writing makes the reader wonder why and how something happens. This makes them want to keep reading until he suddenly explains the connection. 

Because it makes you think about how you judge things, I would highly recommend this book to other readers. It really made me think about the choices I make every day and how some of them are already made for me.

Overall, the book was fun to read. It kept me entertained and interested enough to finish it. Overall, you should read it because it will make you think a lot. But you shouldn’t think that everything in the book is true.

Rating: 9/10

This Book Is For:

  • People who want to stop their impulses on making decisions.
  • People who want to improve their life overall as a consequence of good decision-making.
  • Entrepreneurs who want to learn about decision-making skills


If You Want to Learn More

Here is a presentation that Malcolm Gladwell did on the book.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

How I’ve Implemented the Ideas from The Book

This book helped me have greater faith in going with my “gut” instinct while making decisions. A really nice book that opens one’s eyes to the fact that we often fail to notice or give thought to what should be evident.

A lot of the time, we don’t give much thought to the fundamental aspects of life, and it takes us reading a book to realize that we already have all we need to succeed in this life; all we need to do is become in tune with our own selves more.

It has shown me that there are a great many things that we believed we understood but actually did not. BLINK covers principles that directly connect to how we see things, how we make instantaneous judgements and decisions, as well as how we behave and respond to situations as they arise.

The most significant components of life are the interactions we have with other people.

Although if the decision-making process may only last for a few moments at a time, it is important to be aware of the circumstances in which significant life changes might occur. My manner of life has vastly improved as a direct result of my newfound ability to make well-considered choices.

One Small Actionable Step You Can Do

In this book, Malcolm Gladwell says that our subconscious can make very good decisions in just a few seconds. It’s not intuition. 

Malcolm doesn’t use the word “intuition” on purpose, and at the end of the book, he explains why. Intuition is based on gut reactions and feelings. Malcolm says that the blink factor is when our subconscious is so well trained that it makes a choice for us quickly.

The first step in solving a problem is realizing it exists. If your subconscious is making you decide quickly about someone you just met, you should be aware of this and take steps to fix it. 

Even when we need to move quickly, we need to take a step back and pay close attention. So, we can make better decisions overall and not let our impulses or emotions get the best of us and cause us to make mistakes we’ll later regret. Beware of the impulses and try to stop them.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell Summary Infographic