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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Oct 29th, 2020


The Theory of Thin Slices

According to Gladwell, thin slicing is a concept that refers to the ability of humans to find patterns in events through the application insights gained from short or small experiences. In the book, Gladwell contends that thin-slicing is one of the most dazzling capabilities of the conscious, and at the same time, the major weakness of rapid cognition (Gladwell, 2012). The conversation between Bill and Susan provides subtle insights that enable Gottman to analyze their marriage with great accuracy (Gladwell, 2012).

In the book, Gladwell presents thin-slicing as a highly beneficial aspect of the unconscious that allows people to make accurate judgments of others by observing them for short periods. One of the weaknesses of this concept is the propensity to apply bias in one’s judgment. There are many factors that determine how people behave in different circumstances. People have a tendency to seek out information that validates their beliefs and perspectives.

Therefore, thin-slicing, though it provides accurate judgment in most cases, can mislead people into making wrong decisions. Cognitive biases affect the effectiveness of thin-slicing because it stretches and distorts judgment. It is highly unlikely that the state of Bill and Susan’s marriage can be evaluated accurately from a short discussion involving their dog.

The Warren Harding Error

The Warren Harding error is Gladwell’s contention that thin-slicing, though useful in making snap decisions, can lead to erroneous thinking. Gladwell uses the story of Warren Harding and Harry Daugherty to demonstrate how rapid cognition can be problematic (Gladwell, 2012). He begins the chapter with an example of a mistaken judgment that invalidates his previous argument regarding the effectiveness of thin-slicing.

He should have begun by giving a brilliant insight, and then using the Warden story to support his argument. Harding was successful politically because of people’s snap judgments regarding his capabilities (Gladwell, 2012). They equated physical looks to courage and intelligence. His physical looks influenced people’s thinking. Bob Golomb is a successful salesman because of his prowess in thin-slicing (Gladwell, 2012).

He determines what customers want by evaluating their emotions and attitudes. Gladwell’s arguments are narrow because he uses only two examples to make a generalization that might not apply in all areas. It is wrong for Gladwell to assume that people are generally helpless when dealing with first impressions. People can change their first impressions by modifying their experiences. He ignores the fact that rapid, unconscious decisions from first impressions are stretchy and can be easily altered with increased awareness.

Kenna’s Dilemma

Gladwell explores the failed music career of Kenna, who, though he receives positive reviews from stakeholders in the music industry, does not impress the listeners. He argues that in order to fully understand the quality of Kenna’s music, it is important to thoroughly explore the intricacies of people’s snap judgments (Gladwell, 2012). Gladwell’s argument in this chapter undermines his earlier support for thin-slicing. It can be deduced that people do not like Kenna’s music not because of weaknesses in their thin-slicing capabilities, as Gladwell argues, but because his music is not appealing. Kenna’s music does not fall in any particular genre, and therefore, it is difficult to categorize (Gladwell, 2012).

This scenario shows that test audiences usually react negatively to new products and equate them to bad products. Gladwell’s argument is weakened by the Pepsi and Coca Cola story. Many people choose Coca Cola over Pepsi even though Pepsi is sweeter. People’s preferences can be attributed to a lack of understanding with regard to the functioning of snap judgments and first impressions. Gladwell does not provide alternative reasoning, and the details he provides on the Civille and Heylmun story disproves his admonition of the avoidance of focusing too much on the details.

Implications on Human Behavior/Marketing Study

Chapter 2

In chapter 2, Gladwell discusses one of the key aspects of thin-slicing that can have far-reaching implications on human behavior. The person engaging in thin-slicing cannot explain the source of snap judgments (Gladwell, 2012). Gladwell introduces the concept of priming, which includes stimuli such as images and words that influence behavior. The chapter’s content can be applied in the field of marketing to manipulate consumer behavior.

Marketing initiatives are usually founded on the unconscious aspects of human decision-making. Marketers understand that many consumer decisions are unconscious. In that regard, they use images, words, and sounds to influence consumers into making certain decisions. Simple actions can be used to shape people’s emotions, and as a result, alter their decisions. The lack of understanding regarding the source of snap judgments makes priming an effective marketing tool that is used to influence human behavior.

In many instances, thin-slicing overrides people’s ability to make conscious decisions. This explains why Coca Cola won its fight with Pepsi because it used branding to prime consumers to choose its products (Gladwell, 2012). The application of thin-slicing can be useful in many life instances. However, in the marketing field, it leads to customer manipulation.

Chapter 4

In chapter 4, Gladwell discusses the story of Paul Van Riper to demonstrate how improvisation and snap judgments can be important elements of success. The Millennium Challenge demonstrates how perfect information and careful consideration can interfere with decision-making and lead to undesirable outcomes (Gladwell, 2012). The content of this chapter has great implications for human behavior.

For example, Operation Net Assessment shows how conscious rational thinking can cause adverse effects (Gladwell, 2012). People tend to use rational thinking to make most of their decisions and ignore the critical role that intuition and unconscious snap judgments play in decision-making. People should learn to balance between intuitive and rational decision-making. Rational predictions do not always have the projected outcomes.

The Blue Team spent a lot of time making predictions that turned out to be inaccurate and useless in the implementation of their war strategy (Gladwell, 2012). They thought that using Operation Net Assessment would give them an advantage over the Red Team. The success of Van Riper was founded on his ability to use his intuition to make critical decisions (Gladwell, 2012). People should avoid falling into the trap of allowing evidence and information to cloud their judgment.

Chapter 6

The main focus of chapter 6 is the importance of interpreting facial cues as one of the most important aspects of snap judgments. Gladwell argues that Amadou Diallo’s death was as a result of bad snap judgments and poor interpretation of facial cues (Gladwell, 2012). Contrary to Gladwell’s argument, many critics argued that Diallo’s death was a result of conscious racism against the victim. The content of the chapter has great implications for son human behavior because, as Gladwell argues, people do not always apply rational thinking in decision-making (Gladwell, 2012). The application of free will in the process of making decisions is dependent on the situation.

In that regard, both voluntary and involuntary aspects are at play. Understanding the meaning of various facial cues is important in effective communication. People try to hide some information during conversations that can be exposed through the study of their facial expressions. Facial expression analysis can aid in marketing by providing insights into the meaning of the facial expressions that consumers exhibit when viewing certain products. Moreover, the information would help marketers increase their understanding of the relationship between facial cues and snap judgment and how both concepts interact to influence consumer decisions.


Gladwell, M. (2012). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

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