The funny thing about Malcolm Gladwell is that everyone seems to
enjoy reading him, but few remember many details of what he
actually wrote. I had a conversation with a parent of one of my
students not long ago about the overestimation of the importance of
IQ, referencing some studies done by Lewis Terman. She listened
with rapt attention and deep in thought. The information seemed
new, original, and surprising to her. I mentioned that Malcolm
Gladwell wrote about this in his book Outliers, to which she
responded, "I read that book!" Apparently these things don't
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking is one of
Gladwell's many bestsellers. He seems to have an enduring interest
in both psychology and in education, which means that he'll make
several appearances on the podcast, even though he's "just a
journalist". He seems to draw people in with his combination of
Viking-quality storytelling and modern statistical and scientific
thinking. It seems to me that his later books are more knowledge-
and idea-rich, and his earlier ones are a bit more
The idea in Blink is that some apparent thinking is done without
conscious processing (although Gladwell puts it in much sexier
terms). For example, art critics know whether something is a
genuine Greek sculpture or not because they can *feel* it, and they
often can't explain why. Their intuitions can be - tend to be, in
fact - more accurate than careful and detailed analysis and
background investigations. What's going on here?
If you've been paying attention to the podcast so far, you
should see where this fits in with the themes we've been exploring.
Several books so far have been concerned with something similar.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is about cognitive biases, which are
subconscious "wrong" thinking. The Power of Habit looked at how
people can learn even when they can't form any long-term memories.
"Picture yourself as a stereotypical male" dealt with stereotype
threat, i.e. how people subconsciously fulfil stereotypes about
groups they belong to.
Apart from the idea of subconscious thinking, Gladwell also
discusses some cases where this thinking is accurate, and others
where it is wrong, or even disastrous. Surprise surprise, experts
tend to have valid intuitions, whereas novices shouldn't trust
their gut feeling. This idea of the differences between experts and
novices is one reason why we're covering this book now, as our next
theme for the coming weeks will be the question "how do people get
good at things?".
Enjoy the episode.