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Dion Dimucci

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Originally published on Monday, February 21, 2005 in The Miami Herald

Quick decisions with the blink of an eye.
Possessing the ability to assess situations with lightning speed can be a very useful skill in the fast-paced business world

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Malcolm Gladwell. Little, Brown and Co. 288 Pages
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Sometimes first impressions are the most telling. Often, one can tell a lot by observing only a small portion of an interaction. And frequently you can judge a book by its cover.

But not always.

In business, it is sometimes possible to draw broad conclusions quickly, while other times, what we consider ''obvious'' is not at all, and a closer look is required.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell kept his hair short for most of his life, but when the author of the influential and best selling book The Tipping Point let his kinky hair grow long, policemen suddenly began to stop him on the street for questioning. This triggered the not-terribly profound idea that the cops thought Gladwell looked like a person who would commit a crime.

The writer began an exploration of ''thin slicing,'' which he defines as ``the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.''

He writes: ``Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.

'It is striking, for instance, how many different professions and disciplines have a word to describe the particular gift of reading deeply into the narrowest slivers of experience. In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him or her is said to have `court sense.' In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess 'coup d'oeil' -- which, translated from French, means 'power of the glance': the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield.''

Gladwell, an engaging and elegant writer, introduces experts in a variety of fields -- art appraisers, military tacticians, food scientists, historians, psychologists, car salesmen, doctors and others who make remarkably accurate assessments by thin slicing.

He explores the experience of people who also know when to slow things down and focus on a few important aspects of a situation rather than the entire scenario. For example, emergency medical professionals in Chicago learned to disregard some apparently important symptoms when evaluating possible heart attack victims. It seemed counterintuitive, but the accuracy of the diagnoses rose dramatically.

The tragic case of Amadou Diallo, shot 41 times by New York City police, who thought the Nigerian immigrant had drawn on them first, is also dissected by Gladwell. Experts maintain that events had unnecessarily accelerated and slowing things down would have avoided many of the erroneous assumptions that led to the Diallo's death.

Clock management, as evidenced by a recent Super Bowl, is often the difference between success and failure -- or life and death.

Gladwell's thoughtful book may just reveal the tip of an iceberg, but I'd conclude from this thin but meaty slice that we all need to learn when -- and when not to -- blink. Our survival may depend on it.

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