Who Blinked First?

20 Mar 2005|Darrel Rhea

Recently one of my colleagues wrote a fairly scathing review of Blink, Malcolm Gladwell’s newest tome after The Tipping Point. While I agree with some of her concerns about the conclusions people may take away from it in terms of unfounded or unfair snap judgments, I find that much of my work (many thousands of research studies) confirms his premise that people process visual information rapidly and on an unconscious level. In fact, his work echoes Cheskin’s pioneering work a half a century ago. Blink will likely become Gladwell’s newest contribution to Twenty-first Century cultural idiomatics. But that doesn’t mean that rapid conclusions are always correct, or even that it is a good way to make decisions. Hence, the broad and deep customer studies proffered by Cheskin — which do, in fact, support well-founded decisions that drive many millions of dollars into wise investment or away from product and brand concepts that would otherwise clearly fail.

Unfortunately, while many businesses do invest in the type of sophisticated research it takes to predict success, not all do—and not all take the advice that they pay for either. And sometimes, they fall prey to their own blinking, such as the failure of New Coke, which Gladwell discusses in Blink based on his interview of Davis Masten and me (most of which is paraphrased in the book).

However, there’s much to be said for Blink. Gladwell shines as a journalist when he sniffs out and summarizes informative or thought-provoking stories. And, as a journalist, he responds to what readers like, sprinkling them throughout the book amply. Aside from the stories Gladwell borrowed from a few chapters in Cheskin’s history, I especially liked the ones about the military’s Millennium Challenge, heart attack triage and how facial expressions not only communicate but actually affect how we feel. (I’m smiling right now!) But I’ll have more space to talk about those and some additional anecdotal cases that relate to “thin-slicing” as I am being taped on Monday by CNN for a Blink special. No doubt I’ll be discussing not just stories but conclusions drawn from Cheskin’s 60 years of working with the way people visualize and internalize information. More later on when (or if) it will air…

prev next