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  • Writer's pictureMarc Primo

Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s "Blink" to Business

This is an article “Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s "Blink" to Business” by Marc Primo

Malcolm Gladwell is considered by many as one of the most insightful authors in the modern age of both business and digital frontiers. His landmark and bestselling book, Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, from 2005 still teaches today’s generation of professionals the power of snap judgments and trusting your instincts. For entrepreneurs, harnessing this power can help them make intelligent decisions in a blink of an eye and expect positive results while everything is still up in the air.

The ability to make quick decisions for greater results in business is essential for any boss. This type of ‘thin slicing’ or the ability to note patterns in experiences and context clues may not be as ideal for seasoned businessmen who take on traditional approaches. However, modern-day entrepreneurs need to polish their decision-making skills at the right moment or else miss windows of opportunities.

Here are a few insights that could help entrepreneurs apply the concepts of Blink when it matters:

Making decisions based on life experiences and expertise

What we learn mostly from Gladwell’s Blink is that thin-slicing requires practice in analyzing decisions and solving problems – types of masterful abilities that take years to perfect. Reinforcing your business decisions with the ability to know the structure of a problem or crisis and how to strategically solve it based on your insights and experiences nurtures your gut instinct to address every challenge you may encounter in the future.

Many might ask: isn’t gut instinct and spot-on intuition innate rather than nurtured? Gladwell begs to differ by factoring positive attitudes and constant business experiences in the way we make rapid-fire decisions when necessary. Knowing your business inside and out also contributes to how you can gauge problems and come up with exact solutions with little attention.

To be clear, ‘blinking’ while making business decisions differs from how some may approach things with street smarts rather than educated analysis, though they may share some factors within the spectrums of experiences, intuition, and expertise. Gladwell meticulously took insights from neurosciences and psychology to understand the world from within and how everything and everyone may function. By integrating what we learn from business school and life all around, we can come up with analytical choices that feel right even without gathering all the relevant information about the problem.

While the book cited examples of detecting fake art sculptures via a hunch, predicting how long marriages will last, which race people are programmed to choose as crime suspects, and how a tennis coach knows beforehand how his player will commit a fault even before the ball hits the racket, those in business can learn that there is no need to process all information when making big decisions. Instead, what businessmen can use are significant factors that make up an overwhelming sum of possible variables to come up with game-changing directions.

Knowing when to blink

In business, phrases like ‘to each his own’ or ‘agree to disagree’ are often prevalent. As they say – different strokes for different folks, and many might oppose Gladwell’s ‘blink’ concept in how they can undoubtedly be careless and even dangerous when performed incorrectly. Psychology experts have stated concerns on how managers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) might miss pertinent details without proper analysis given how most tend to be brilliant when making strategic decisions rather than conveying plans on a whim.

Perhaps by combining one’s gut instincts, specific expertise, all available choices, and the gravity of complexity that surrounds an issue all matter in making quick and appropriate decisions in business. Anything less may be deemed, at most, an intelligent guess. What can help CEOs and managers when applying the concepts of Gladwell’s Blink in business is acknowledging how our brains are designed to function well in pattern recognition but still need figures and statistics for analysis.

As an example, the 1982 case wherein seven people in Chicago died from taking Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide immediately prompted folks at Johnson & Johnson to come up with an effective public relations strategy to protect its brand’s reputation. What the company did was temporarily halt its advertising operations from the two reported cases of death and blasted holding statements to hospitals, doctors, and stakeholders, while setting up a hotline number for consumers and recalling their products from pharmacy shelves nationwide. This quick and decisive action was rooted in how the company displayed its honesty and integrity to the consumer, values that are embedded in their corporate philosophies which helped in making swift and effective decisions. Eventually, investigators found out that only a few Tylenol capsules were contaminated in an isolated location by a single lunatic bent on hurting other people.

A manager needs to determine the right time to blink or when to take his time to analyze what information is available to him rather than rely on first impressions. This also doesn’t mean that blinking means taking the easy way out. What the practice does is help develop solutions that should have been in place even before challenges arise. In the case of Johnson & Johnson, the aftermath produced tamper-proof packaging for their medicines, which company leaders acknowledged as something that should have been thought of long ago.

Facts are eye-openers

Whether you take Gladwell’s concept as power in business or otherwise, the main argument most professionals in business make is how impossible it is to remain consistent when it comes to decision-making when you resort to the concept of blinking. Add to this how difficult those decisions would be to defend based solely on instinct. Haphazard actions when addressing crises may not stand up in court whether they work or not.

At any rate, practicing blinking in business still requires formal analysis that goes in harmony with your gut feel. The fine print of the most critical elements when solving business problems will always lie in facts, opinions, and academic understanding. Having all of these in check helps to place yourself in the right position and apply quick actions that solve problems.


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