Monday, August 23, 2021

BLINK By Malcolm Gladwell (2005)

BLINK By Malcolm Gladwell (2005)

Adventure of Discovery of the Minds of Others.  Reading Malcolm Gladwell is to be in the presence of a great mind, a great heart, and a great spirit.  He goes beyond the intellectual stimulation for which he is so rightly famous, and shows real sensitivity to the human condition.  I feel that Malcolm Gladwell cares about what I do with the insights he has given me.  The insights themselves are a treat.  The caring on top of that is surprising and delightful.

I would feel presumptuous in the extreme to write a book review of any of  Malcom Gladwell's works.  I would feel wholly inadequate to do a book report on any of his works.  Instead, my attempt is to make notes on my experience of the adventure of discovery of the minds of others.  In so doing, it is my hope to honor Mr. Gladwell by showing just how much his work made me think, feel, and get more in touch with my humanity.

Mr. Gladwell wanted to be a lawyer.  He would have been an excellent lawyer (but it would have been a waste in the same way Eddie Redmayne becoming a lawyer would have been a waste).  Understanding the view from the other side of the table is vital to lawyering.  Getting into the mind of the opposing party, and opposing counsel, and understanding how they think and perceive the situation is an invaluable skill.  Mr. Gladwell celebrates that skill.  He is a master at play with that skill.  It is beautiful to watch.


Snap Judgements & the Adaptive Unconscious.  Slowing down facial expressions and speech into thin slices of time, fractions of seconds, can reveal evidence of the activity of the unconscious mind.  The unconscious mind is like a peculiar kind of locked door, always making implicit associations like sounds coming from behind the locked door.  We cannot access what is behind the door directly.  However, some evidence of what is going on behind the door does appear in our faces and behavior if we know how to look.  Studies show that the face is not just exhibiting what the brain is feeling, moving the face changes how we feel and respond as well.  Put a pencil between your teeth forcing you to smile and pay attention to what changes in your mood and reactions.

The activity of the unconscious mind can be influenced by experiences.  For example, scientists have developed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) which measures how long it takes to arrange certain words.  Watching the Olympics, for example, is enough to improve positive black word association times.  

I am a 6'5" tall white man.  I have been enjoying positive implicit associations my whole life.  As a middle aged person, I am balding, wear glasses, and have a bit of a gut - which all carry negative implicit associations.  The sweet bird of youth has flown away and left a bit of poop.

I am afraid to let the psychologist with the 95% accuracy of predicting divorce within 15 years by carefully observing one hour of conversation about issues that arise in marriage such as pets. 

Thin slices of time reveal contempt (the leading indicator), criticism (generally favored by women), stonewalling (generally favored by men) & defensiveness. 

I couldn't help but wonder if videotaping and slowing down interviews with suspected criminals and terrorists would reveal much more than torture.  Coupled with measuring brain waves that indicate recognition of a photograph (or non-recognition) could reveal more than a person may be willing to tell under any circumstances.

A touching story for me was of female classical musicians who were hired for orchestras when they auditioned behind a curtain, but not hired when they weren't.  One woman had been a substitute in the Orchestra.  They already knew her, but they didn't know how good she really was until they heard her without seeing her.  

This is the premise of the television show, the Voice.  Judges are turned with their backs to the singer and they listen before turning around.  The surprises are wonderful.

A downside of rapid cognition is "stickiness," which is the resistance to change of first impressions under the weight of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  For example, Warren G. Harding was known for being strikingly good looking.  He looked "Presidential."  He is regarded as one of the worst U.S. Presidents.  Sometimes rapidly assessing and adapting to people and surroundings unconsciously is useful.  Sometimes we need to Think and not just Blink.

Rule of Agreement.  There is a structure for spontanaity.  In improvisation, assuming everything the other person says is true and never contradicting it can produce hilarious situations.  

In Law School, professors tell students to "not fight the hypothetical."  Just assume it's all true and move forward.  I practiced some DUI defense as a legal intern before I was licensed.  The rule was to not just assume that every word of a cops affidavit was true, but to also lay the foundation regarding the training and excellence of the officer in including everything in the affidavit.  Never contradict a police affidavit.  One lawyer explained that there was "no cheese down that hole."  Once wedded to the affidavit, work with any inconsistencies or omissions to get the results the Defendant wants.

To Understand the Paradigm is to Understand its Weaknesses.  Behavior flows from a mental model or worldview.  The stronger you get in some areas, the more vulnerabilities arise in others. For example, superior military technology, information, numbers and lethality creates opportunities that can be exploited.  Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) (including airplanes) and communication by motorcycle courier are examples of how smaller forces can punch high above their weight class.  The scenario is old, old, old.  Native American fighting techniques were used successfully against formal British musket volleys in open fields.  Guerilla tactics were used against the United States in Vietnam and Afghanistan.  David used a sling and stone to kill Goliath, which was the equivalent of using a .45 against someone with a knife.

If You Want to Know What Someone Likes; Don't Ask Them.  People have a tendency toward the familiar.  When asked if they like something they haven't seen prior, most people simply say no.  Overcoming this initial hesitation can lead to surprising leaps of growth and unexpectedly wonderful experiences.

For example, when I first heard of a show about the manufacture of methamphetamine, I thought there is no way I am watching that.  It sounds horrible.  My wife's family has members who are meth addicts.  Her uncle used to make meth in her grandmother's garage in Las Vegas.  However, from the first episode of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and Brian Cranston (among others) immersed me in a compelling world of a mid-life crisis from multiple points of view.

Expert Opinion v. Public Opinion.  Like a Venn Diagram, critics and viewers assessments sometimes overlap - and sometimes do not.  Failure to get beyond initial reactions can limit growth.  If you trust a critic or a friend possibility emerges.  For example, when I heard the premise of Schitt's Creek I thought there is no way I am watching that, it sounds stupid.  However, a pediatrician friend for whom I have enormous respect said I should give it a chance.  I did.  I was surprised to find myself caring about characters I didn't think it was possible to care about.  So, Blink, then Think, and give yourself time to see if reevaluating your first impression can lead somewhere unexpectedly wonderful.

Heart Rate Awareness.  I didn't realize that I was a different person with a heart rate above 175 bpm.  If police had heart rate monitors that alarmed at 175 bpm mistakes could be reduced and lives saved.  That is why many jurisdictions have banned high speed chases.  Rodney King was beaten after a high speed chase.  Judgment is adversely affected with a heart rate above 175 bpm. 

We all make choices that lead to situations in which our Judgment is impaired.  Once we are in the situation with a sky high heart rate - it is too late.  We need to think about the lead up to the situation.  Lawyers are a bit like cops in that the presence of either raises the stakes.  Like ringing a bell, the appearance of a lawyer or a cop cannot be unrung.  We can make things worse just by being there.  Knowing this, we can tread lightly and first, do no harm.  We can manage our own heart rates because a high heart rate can be as contagious as Covid, leaping from person to person until the whole group is infected.

ConclusionUnderstanding that a first impression is just that, the first of subsequent impressions can lead us to give the proper weight and utility to those rapid cognitive which in turn contrasts with the situations in which the weight and utility of slower deliberative thought is preferred.  To everything there is a season.  Knowing what season it is and dressing appropriately makes all the difference.

Sometimes my wife will ask me why I am dressed warmly on a sunny day.  I tell her that I am dressing for my internal weather.  My mind is sometimes cold when my body is warm.  Better matching of my internal and external weather means people won't so readily see when I am a little out of step.  Thinking long and hard when it is not beneficial (and can even increase risk) and rapid cognition would be preferred is out of step.  As is not thinking long and hard about snap negative judgments that may be completely wrong and not at all consistent with reality.

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