Malcom Gladwell’s new book, Blink, is getting a lot of positive press and seems to be everyone's favorite review topic. In the book he argues that we sometimes rely on our quick intuition to make decisions rather than detailed analysis (duh?). And sometimes we regret these snap judgments, as Gladwell acknowledges. Not a new idea, but then he offers many interesting examples according to the reviewers. I am sure we could come up with our own good and bad ones. The New York Times reviewer (January 16), in a more balanced and thoughtful commentary than most, pointed out that, while he provides these fascinating stories, Gladwell does not offer a comprehensive theory as to why this happens or when to use quick judgments (sorry no way to provide a link). No maven here.
John Maloney pointed me to an interesting exchange in Slate between Gladwell and James Surowiecki whose Wisdom of Crowds could be taken as quite in contrast to Gladwell’s thesis. Blink could be taken to support the value of individual wisdom, even Gladwell agrees with this. Surowiecki’s book argues for the ability of large numbers of “regular” people to out-think experts in certain situations.
I think both theories have their place and each counters a standard decision model. There are times when each view make sense but each can be pushed to absurdity. For example, Gladwell asks Surowiecki if a 1000 people in a village in China would be better at collectively looking at x-rays than a single highly trained radiologist. How about the 120 million Americans who believe in creationism re-writing our science curriculum? Or two dozen Democrats trying to swiftly guide the Kerry campaign? Perhaps John read Suroweicki's Wisdom of Crowds before he picked his team. A similar critique of Blink is offered by Suroweicki as there are times when detailed analysis makes sense if time allows.
Based on reading the reviews, I find Gladwell’s work to be a one idea book and not necessarily counter-intuitive, so reading the examples becomes less valuable for gaining insights. Blink seems simply entertaining light reading, as the New York Times Reviewer suggests. I think Suroweicki’s book is more counter-intuitive so reading the book to understand the examples will provide more value to those who want to implement his ideas, especially for marketing through the web.