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Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of Blink

Most of us have been taught that to make good decisions we need to put in a lot of time and effort. In Blink (2005), Malcolm Gladwell questions this assumption, asking: How do our snap judgments compare to our rational, well-thought-out decisions? He finds that our snap judgments are often just as good as our deliberate decisions.

A New Yorker staff writer, Gladwell has made his name writing books that make social science research accessible and digestible to the layperson. His books include The Tipping Point (2000), Outliers (2008), David and Goliath (2013), and Talking to Strangers (2019).

Gladwell’s personal experience with racial stereotyping prompted him to research and write Blink. When Gladwell, who is half-Jamaican, let his hair grow, he noticed that police and security guards began to treat him differently. He was issued more speeding tickets and targeted by the police as a potential rapist. This led him to think more carefully about the far-reaching effects of snap judgments.

The Power of Snap Judgments

We usually think of snap judgments as lazy, superficial, and probably wrong. But are they really? Gladwell argues that snap judgments can be just as good as—or even better than—the decisions that we make by analyzing a situation carefully.

According to Gladwell, both logical, conscious decision-making and snap judgments have their time and place. Our brain uses two broad strategies for making decisions:

Strategy #1: Conscious Thinking

This thinking is also known as rational decision-making. When we think consciously, we use past experiences and current information to make a decision logically.

Strategy #2: Unconscious Thinking

This thinking is also known as the adaptive unconscious, intuition, or making snap judgments. When we think unconsciously, we make decisions without understanding why, or sometimes even without realizing we’ve made them.

Gladwell says we use these two different thinking strategies in different situations.

Kahneman’s Two Systems of Thinking

Another way to think about these two thinking strategies is as two “systems,” as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman does in his bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011).

System 1

In Kahneman’s conception, unconscious thinking is “System 1” thinking. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, and no sense of voluntary control.

  • Examples: Detect that one object is farther than another; detect sadness in a voice; read words on billboards; understand simple sentences; drive a car on an empty road.

System 2

Like Gladwell’s conception of conscious thinking, “System 2” thinking allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. It’s often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

  • Examples: Focus attention on a particular person in a crowd; exercise faster than is normal for you; monitor your behavior in a social situation; park in a narrow space; multiply 17 x 24.

Benefits of Snap Judgments

According to Gladwell, snap judgments have two main benefits:

1) They’re unconscious. To make snap judgments, our unconscious minds “thin-slice”: They find patterns in situations based on small snapshots of experience.

Snap judgments don’t require a lot of information. When we thin-slice, our unconscious mind picks out the relevant information and leaves the rest. This allows us to ignore distracting, superficial details and get to the heart of a problem or choice.

When we thin-slice, we take small segments of experience and generalize them to make broader judgments. For example, when you meet someone for the first time, you might use his mood, outfit, or voice to make judgments about his personality and likeability.

(Shortform note: Gladwell doesn’t attribute the term “thin-slicing” to anyone in particular, and he’s often credited with coining it. But the idea of “thin slices” of experience first appears in a 1992 paper by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal that Gladwell draws on in some of his examples.)

2) They’re fast. The unconscious mind processes little bits of information and makes decisions about them all the time without our awareness. This frees up the conscious mind to focus on tasks that only it can complete, like those involving logic.

(Shortform note: In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman explains that snap judgments—his System 1—are fast because they work associatively. Associations, for example associating the word “lettuce” with salads and the color green, happen at lightning speed in the brain. They’re so fast and automatic that we can’t block them even if we try.)

Drawbacks of Snap Judgments

However, Gladwell notes, we need to beware of the downside of snap judgments:

1) We can get distracted by superficial information. To illustrate this problem, Gladwell gives the example of the 29th president of the United States, Warren Harding. Harding had an undistinguished political career. He wasn’t particularly smart, rarely took a stance on (or interest in) political issues, gave vague speeches, and spent much of his time drinking and womanizing. But still, he became president. How did he get the position in the first place?

As Gladwell notes, Harding looked like a president. His...

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Blink Summary Shortform Introduction

Throughout our lives, we’ve been taught that our decisions are sounder if a lot of time and effort have gone into making them. In Blink (2005), Malcolm Gladwell questions this assumption, asking: How do our snap judgments compare to our rational, well-thought-out decisions? He argues that our snap judgments are often just as good as our deliberate decisions.

About the Author

A New Yorker staff writer, Gladwell has made his name writing books that make social science research accessible and digestible to the layperson. He’s garnered praise for both his lucid, enthusiastic presentation of cutting-edge research and the novel connections he makes across a wide range of fields. His books include The Tipping Point (2000), Outliers (2008), David and Goliath (2013), and Talking to Strangers (2019).

Some have critiqued Gladwell’s work for oversimplifying complex concepts, relying too heavily on...

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Blink Summary Introduction: The Power of Snap Judgments

We usually think of snap judgments as lazy, superficial, and probably wrong. But are they really? Gladwell argues that snap judgments can be just as good as—or even better than—the decisions that we make by analyzing a situation carefully.

According to Gladwell, both logical, conscious decision-making and snap judgments have their time and place. Our brain uses two broad strategies for making decisions:

Strategy #1: Conscious Thinking

This thinking is also known as rational decision-making. When we think consciously, we use past experiences and current information to make a decision logically.

Strategy #2: Unconscious Thinking

This thinking is also known as the adaptive unconscious, intuition, or making snap judgments. When we think unconsciously, we make decisions without understanding why, or sometimes even without realizing we’ve made them.

Gladwell says that **we use these two different thinking strategies...

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Blink Summary Part 1: The Benefits of Working With Less Information

Gladwell believes there are two primary benefits of snap decisions:

  • They’re quick
  • They’re unconscious

The value of speed is obvious in situations in which there’s no time to think things through. EMTs, firefighters, and police officers make snap decisions all the time. But even though we don’t realize it, we’re all making snap decisions constantly, and we all find ourselves in situations where time is limited and we need to act quickly.

(Shortform note: Though fast decisions and snap decisions aren’t necessarily the same thing, making decisions quickly can give you the upper hand in business. For example, consumer research platform Attest proposes an equation for measuring decision-making effectiveness in which speed acts as a multiplier: Decision effectiveness = Decision Quality × Speed × Yield – Effort.)

The Advantages of Deciding With the Unconscious Mind

In addition to being speedy, snap decisions are unconscious. The unconscious mind handles all the minor bits of information thrown at us every day. **This frees up the conscious mind to focus on problems...

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Shortform Exercise: Be Selective in Decision-Making

Look to the past to see if you’ve based decisions on irrelevant information. Can you find ways to identify patterns and disregard the minor details when making decisions in the future?


Think of a time when you had to make a decision and were overwhelmed by all the factors you had to take into account. What was the situation? What were some of the deciding factors?

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Blink Summary Part 2: The Downside of Snap Judgments

As Gladwell notes, when we recognize the power of the unconscious mind’s thin-slicing, we need to acknowledge both its positive and negative sides.

  • Positive: Thin-slicing allows us to judge a person or situation based on a first impression. We don’t need hours or months of study.
  • Negative: Thin-slicing can cause us to act on deep-seated biases, leading us disastrously astray.

This chapter is about the downside of our snap judgments and what we can do to counter it.

Snap judgments can go wrong for a few reasons: First, we can be overly superficial when making the judgment. Second, we can fail to recognize when our conscious and unconscious attitudes don’t match, which leads us to make decisions that are inconsistent with our conscious beliefs. And third, and we’re far more susceptible to the effects of priming than we think. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Superficial Thin-Slicing

Thin-slicing doesn’t always serve us. Sometimes we make superficial snap judgments.

Often thin-slicing helps us get below the surface details of a situation to find deep patterns. But this deep dive can get interrupted, leaving us with a snap judgment that’s based on...

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Shortform Exercise: Confront Your Ingrained Biases

Acknowledging your biases is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s also crucial to improving your snap judgments and aligning your unconscious attitudes with your conscious ones. Reflect on your experiences and how they may have influenced your biases.


Try not to think too much about your answers to the following questions. Capture your gut reactions: When you read the word “leader,” who do you picture? What about “lawyer”? “Parent”? “CEO”?

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Blink Summary Part 3: Snap Judgments Are a Mystery

As Gladwell points out, we’re often unable to explain why or how we arrive at a snap judgment, even if that judgment is correct. We know something, but we don’t know how we know it, and that’s frustrating. It’s hard to trust something that you can’t explain.

Knowledge without a rational explanation is a double-edged sword. This type of knowledge can be the truest, deepest kind, but it can also harbor biases. Because most of us don’t feel comfortable if we don’t know exactly what made us arrive at a particular snap judgment, we tend to rationalize. But instead of helping us to uncover the truth, rationalizing often takes us further away from it.

What Is Rationalizing?

Rationalizing is inventing inaccurate explanations for our actions or thoughts. By doing this, we try to make our decisions seem more rational, both to others and to ourselves.

We tend to feel that there’s a rational reason for everything we do. When we don’t know why we’ve made a certain decision, we make something up. We don’t lie on purpose. We actually believe the lies that our conscious minds construct to explain the decisions of the unconscious mind.

**Rationalizations and the Left...

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Blink Summary Part 4: Why We Don’t Always Know What We Like

How do we determine our own preferences? We’re good at making fast judgments based on thin-slicing about what we do and don’t like. But, surprisingly, sometimes these snap judgments about preferences can be inaccurate.

Your preferences might seem fairly context-independent. If you prefer a particular type of chocolate, for example, you would still expect to prefer it if the packaging changed, or if you were asked to explain why you like it. But, as Gladwell notes, thin-slicing can go awry when it comes to knowing what we like. There are three reasons for this: sensation transference, unfamiliarity, and lack of expertise.

Reason #1: Sensation Transference

Thin-slicing fails when our unconscious minds get distracted or misled by irrelevant information. This is what occurs in sensation transference. Sensation transference causes us to unconsciously judge a product, service, or person based on things that co-occur with the product but aren’t necessarily part of it (such as packaging or the environment in which it’s served). Marketing professionals often use sensation transference to get us interested in products.

One of the easiest ways marketers can prompt sensation...

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Blink Summary Part 5: Improving Our Snap Judgments

Gladwell suggests that we can make better snap judgments by providing the unconscious mind with structure. This involves rehearsing our desired spontaneous responses and developing rules that we can fall back on in times of stress.

Gladwell provides the following specific advice for improving instinctive decision-making:

  1. Incorporate both deliberate and unconscious thinking.
  2. Be selective with the information you consider.
  3. Rehearse.
  4. Avoid making snap decisions when you’re stressed.

Let’s look at each piece of advice in more detail.

1. Incorporate Both Deliberate and Unconscious Thinking

Neither deliberate nor intuitive decision-making is inherently good or bad. Whether these strategies are good, bad, or neutral depends on the situation. If we have time, resources, and a clearly defined task, deliberate decision-making is productive. It can also prime us for “rapid cognition,” or snap judgments.

Part of how we can make better decisions is to understand when the deliberate approach is best, and when the intuitive approach is best. Gladwell suggests that, where possible, we start with deliberate decision-making. This lays the groundwork for future...

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Shortform Exercise: Inoculate Yourself Against Stress

Use this exercise to think about ways you can rehearse making good, quick decisions in stressful situations.


What stressful situation do you find yourself in frequently enough that it gets in the way of your success? (Maybe it’s giving presentations at work or attending job interviews.)

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Blink Summary Part 6: Success and Failure in Snap Judgments—Two Examples

Gladwell describes two examples of snap decision-making in detail. One of these examples showcases the benefits of making intuitive, on-the-fly decisions; the other example shows how these decisions can lead to disaster.

Snap Decision Success: A Battle Between Military Philosophies

Which approach works best in war? Surely methodical planning will beat snap decisions every time? Gladwell discusses the Millennium Challenge war simulation to show that split-second decision-making can beat careful planning in a war context.

The Millennium Challenge was a 2002 war game planned by the military’s Joint Forces Command (JFCOM). The military uses these games to test new strategies.

There were two teams in the Millennium Challenge:

  • Blue Team: the U.S. and its allies
  • Red Team: the enemy. JFCOM asked retired Marine Corps General Paul Van Riper to play the part of a rogue military commander threatening to start a war in the Persian Gulf.

The two teams had very different philosophies of war.

Blue Team operated on the assumption that with enough information, you can fight a war in a rational and systematic way. They took into account the enemy’s political,...

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Blink Summary Conclusion: The Lessons of Blink

Blink’s conclusion tells the story of trombone player Abbie Conant to highlight ways we can prompt ourselves to make better snap decisions.

Sensation Transference and Female Trombone Players

As Gladwell recounts, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra invited Conant to audition in 1980, not realizing she was a woman. Conant played behind a screen during the first round of the audition. The director was floored by her talent until he found out she was a woman. The trombone was thought to be a “masculine” instrument, played in military marching bands. The director didn’t believe a woman could play it as well as a man.

The committee reluctantly allowed Conant to join the orchestra, but a year later demoted her to second trombone. In a classic case of sensation transference, the same playing that had astounded them when they listened to her blind suddenly didn’t sound so good when they knew it was coming from a woman.

Since then, many orchestras have instituted safeguards against sensation transference:

  • At auditions, musicians are identified by a number rather than a name.
  • Musicians audition behind a screen.
  • If any sound that could identify gender, such as a...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Introduction: The Power of Snap Judgments
  • Part 1: The Benefits of Working With Less Information
  • Exercise: Be Selective in Decision-Making
  • Part 2: The Downside of Snap Judgments
  • Exercise: Confront Your Ingrained Biases
  • Part 3: Snap Judgments Are a Mystery
  • Part 4: Why We Don’t Always Know What We Like
  • Part 5: Improving Our Snap Judgments
  • Exercise: Inoculate Yourself Against Stress
  • Part 6: Success and Failure in Snap Judgments—Two Examples
  • Conclusion: The Lessons of Blink