Friday, March 12, 2010


Day 31 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

When I first asked this question, 31 days ago, Sally was reading a couple of books (and I've learned since asking that lots of people read more than one book at a time, in various spots in the house, etc.), and one of them was Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

Its full title is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and it's about making snap judgements--how we do it, and how that's often better than thinking too much, and how it might be possible to train us to do it better--and about trusting those first impressions & instincts.

I've talked to people in law enforcement who say, "If your first impression is that the guy is scary, stay away, because he probably is" and so on.

The "blink" phenomenon may account for "love at first sight," when it all works out, and you don't fool yourself into loving the scary guy by misreading that little frisson.

As a poet, my own impulse (& message) is "Pay attention." If we stay attentive and alert, we do see more. (What we do with what we see, though, may take a lifetime of reflection...and trial & error, and....never mind.)

In sports, etc., acting on first impulses seems similar to "flow"--that attentive, "non-thinking" energy & resourcefulness that allows us to function at the top of our ability as if by magic. For more about that, read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience," by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

So, a few days ago, a fellow came bouncing by on the sidewalk outside the picture window of Babbitt's, and bounced right into the store full of enthusiasm. "Can I look at that book in the window?" he said. I nodded in a yes-of-course way as he bounced over to the picture-window display shelves to pick up The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

"I can't believe this!" he said. "I was just thinking about this. Everybody's been telling me to read it, and everything in my life at this moment makes me want to read it now. And here it is!"

So, yes, everything converged for this bouncy fellow, and he tipped into Babbitt's and bought the book.


aka Simone said...

That blink phenomonen seems similar to the difference between being kind of good at something but still having to think about it and the "pattern recognition" skills that experts can use. It can be true in work, in games (master chess players), sports and so on. The idea that you can use that ability to judge people based on subtle things about their behavior is interesting, too.

Mike Peterson said...

Kathleen: I don't remember if Gladwell mentioned it, but children's first impulse is to act on their first impression. Part of growing up is to be talked out of this natural tendency since it's often rude. "Why is that lady so fat?" or "That man is black!" are not exactly comments welcomed by parents.

Kathleen said...

Nor by the recipients of those observations. Seems like we can learn how to grow up and also how not to grow out of our good natural tendencies. The trick is indeed how!!