BLINK, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Malcolm Gladwell)

I thought this book is all about gut feel. I thought gut feel is a gift given to us by God, that would come out of nowhere like a divine intervention, or maybe, just maybe, an example of extra-sensory perception thus the title Blink. It is not. At one moment it talked about that, about trusting your instinct, but that instinct, I learned, originates from your past experiences (at times a forgotten past but still remembered by every corner of your body, most especially by your gut thus the word “gut feel”) and exposures to different stimulis—the good, the bad, even the mundane, the ordinary–which would help you make important quick decision in the present when time is running out. Actually, this book will prove to you why experience is the best teacher and why sticking to the rules while you’re still learning the ropes of the game, of your profession, of your advocacy is always a good place to start to become a good strategist later on.

Take for example, improvisation comedy.

Malcolm Gladwell shared: “Improvisation comedy is a wonderful example of the kind of thinking that Blink is about. It involves people making very sophisticated decisions on the spur of the moment, without the benefit of any kind or script or plot. That’s what makes it compelling—and to be frank—terrifying.

“What is terrifying about improv is the fact that it appears utterly random and chaotic. It seems as though you have to get up onstage and make everything up, right there on the spot.

“But the truth is that improv isn’t random and chaotic at all. If you were to sit down with the cast, for instance, and talk to them at length, you’d quickly find out that they aren’t all the sort of zany, impulsive, free-spirited comedians that you might imagine them to be. Some are quite serious, even nerdy. Every week they get together for a lengthy rehearsal. After each show they gather backstage and critique each other’s performance soberly. Why do they practice so much? Because improv is an art form governed by a series of rules and they want to make sure that when they’re up on stage, everyone abides by those rules.”

Another case in point, the game of basketball.

Malcolm Gladwell shared: “Basketball is an intricate, high-speed game filled with split-second, spontaneous decisions. But that spontaneity is possible only when everyone engages in hours of highly repetitive and structured practice—perfecting their shooting, dribbling, and passing and running plays over and over again—and agrees to play a carefully defined role on the court. This is the critical lesson of improv, too…

“Spontaneity isn’t random. How good people’s decisions are under the fast-moving, high-stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal.”

Blink is a book about those first two seconds,” says Malcolm Gladwell. Particularly if it’s a matter of life and death and you need to make a decision and you’re forced to rely only on the data available or limited information that you have.

“This is the same thing that happens with doctors in the ER,” shares the author. “They gather and consider far more information than is truly necessary because it makes them feel more confident—and with someone’s life in the balance, they need to feel more confident. The irony, though, is that that very desire for confidence is precisely what ends up undermining the accuracy of their decision. They feed the information into the already overcrowded equation they are building in their heads, and they get even more muddled.”

What about in the matters of the heart? How will I know if someone is sincere?

Of course, Malcolm Gladwell didn’t talk about it at length but in passing he mentioned something about it. There was one paragraph that he was able to insert it in the book as an example. He said, you look at his face. The face is the doorway to the person’s soul.

“When someone tells us ‘I love you,’ we look immediately and directly at him or her because by looking at the face, we can know—or, at least, we can know a great deal more—about whether the sentiment is genuine,” shares Gladwell.

What I also found interesting and also a source of surprise was on the subject MARKET RESEARCH.

But first let me share with you a personal story.  I met this consultant of a higher up. Since the day she’s able to join us in our planning, her recommendation was to do a market research. When it’s about thinking of themes for the video production, she’d recommend market research. When we already figured out the themes or basis for the video production without resorting to market research and the problem to be solved next was to produce a module on human rights, she again recommended market research. We asked how much would it cost. She answered 100,000 pesos. Later on, after weeks or so. this consultant told me to increase the budget for the market research to 350,000, a too-late declaration because we’ve already indicated in our budget, approved already, that it’s just 100k. Whether we like it or not, we have to put it there because it was approved by this higher up. This higher up also approved increasing it to 350k despite the already approved 100k.  To feel certain, we might still have to present it to other higher ups to review it again, so it’s all up to them.

Personally, I felt uncomfortable with that market research. First, it would take some time to get the results. Second, the data that we need if it’s about research are available on the Internet and every time we have a forum. Third, market research is too expensive. Fourth, I am not sure if the results that would come out are reliable.

Which is why when Malcolm Gladwell started citing situations that proved that market research isn’t always accurate, I felt like my doubts and fears were validated.

I didn’t know until I read this book that new TV programs, new music are subjected to market research. Example: the music of Kenna.

Malcolm Gladwell shared: “When Kenna’s album was making the rounds in New York, being considered by music industry executives, on three separate occasions it was given to an outside market research firm.  This is common practice in the industry.  In order to be successful, an artist has to get played on the radio.  And radio stations will play only a small number of songs that have been proven by market research to audience.  So, before they commit millions of dollars to signing an artist, record companies will spend a few thousand dollars to test his or her music first, using the same techniques as the radio stations.”

Wanna know what came out from that market research?

Gladwell: “Kenna once ran into Paul McGuinness, the manager of U2, backstage at a concert.  “This man right here,” McGuinness said, pointing at Kenna, “he’s going to change the world.”  That was his instinctive feeling, and the manager of a band like U2 is a man who knows music.  But the people whose world Kenna was supposed to be changing, it seemed, couldn’t disagree more, and when the results of all of the consumer research came in, Kenna’s once promising career suddenly stalled.  To get on the radio, there had to be hard evidence that the public liked him–and the evidence just wasn’t there.”

Gladwell went to cite more examples on market research that failed, like what they did to Aeron chair, like what Coke did to compete with Pepsi, like what have been done to  sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore show and All in the Family which were given a thumbs-down during the market research but when it was shown to the public, it became a hit.

“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…”

All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in other words, were the television equivalents of the Aeron chair.  Viewers said they hated them.  But, as quickly became clear when these sitcoms became two of the most successful programs in television history, viewers didn’t actually hate them. They were shocked by them. And all of the ballyhooed techniques used by the armies of market researchers at CBS utterly failed to distinguish between these two very different emotions.

“Market research isn’t always wrong, of course.  If All in the Family had been more traditional–and if the Aeron had been just a minor variation on the chair that came before it–the act of measuring consumer reactions would not have been nearly as difficult.  But testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation.  We like market research because it provides certainty–a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number.  But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty.  Kenna did badly when he was subjected to market research.  But so what?  His music was new and different, and it is the new and different that is always most vulnerable to market research.”

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