Context Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell ( 2005)
Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is a book about how we think about thinking itself. It is a series of essays with insights into human cognition and how we process information when there is very little time available. It explores the concept that decisions that are made in the blink of an eye, aren’t as simple as they seem. Why is it that some individuals made excellent decisions and others seem incompetent at decision making? Why is it that some people follow their intuition and win, and others end up failing? It is these types of questions that are explored in this book. There is a lot of exploration into how our brains work in various environments, such as at work, at school, etc. This book certainly has implications for the field of information science. Some of the examples of the book highlighted an information overload problem. When faced with an abundance of information, what are the cues that people use and how do they behave? What information needs to be excluded and which “ thin slices” are relied on?
I found this book to be an eye opener about ideas I had long ago buried in the back of my mind . Through this book, I was able to appreciate the workings of the subconscious vs conscious mind. I understood that both aspects of these decision making processes needed to be addressed for effective decision making. The main idea of the book is that the unconscious mind can find patterns based on narrow slices of experience called “ thin slicing” In his book, Gladwell takes us through many examples of successful decision making such as the psychologist who can predict whether or not a marriage will last based on a few minutes of observation, or a tennis coach who can predict whether the player will double fault before the racket even comes into contact with the ball, but there are also times when our snap judgments can fail us, such as the election of Warren Harding, or the shooting a young teenager by police officers.
Priming is a concept where subtle triggers can influence our behaviors without an awareness of such changes. The example given in the book occurred in Spain where classical music was introduced in the subway system and authorities noticed that there was a decrease in vandalism and littering. So I thought, what if libraries experiencing the same challenges, especially in inner city branches could do the same? Then, I was reminded of some of Dr. Stephen’s examples of organizational culture where priming could be used, such as the reserved parking sign described in our lecture and the Do-Not-Disturb memo, and wondered what if employers could prime their staff to be more polite to other staff and patrons alike? Staff need to listen to each other and make it a priority to include all voices, not just the ones at the top. Communicating with and including staff’s ideas and opinions is a critical part of library 2.0. Maybe it could be as simple as designing a “ rotating” schedule for that designated parking spot, or getting rid of it entirely.
Chapter Six, “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” was the hardest chapter for me to get through. It was heartbreaking for me to read the tragedy of Amadou Diallo, who was shot in the Bronx by police officers who believed that he was carrying a gun. This is an example of how our snap decisions can have horrific consequences. As librarians, we need to engage all users, and not just the patrons who come in for the traditional programs. What could we be doing to engage teens like Amadou Diallo, or the police officers who shot and killed him? Perhaps librarians need to attend the community town halls or be the ones to host a racial profiling session at the library. As Gandhi said, “ We need to be the change we want to see in this world” Libraries need to work with their communities and find ways to find solutions to these very real challenges. But first, they will need to put radical trust into their communities and open up the library to have these much needed conversations.
I really enjoyed reading the concluding chapter, “Listening With Your Eyes”. Gladwell provided an example of the National Symphony Orchestra using blind auditions to eliminate biases, specifically gender bias. I thought this was brilliant—the idea of judges listening with their ears rather than their eyes and musicians being selected solely based on how well they play their instruments without race, ethnicity and gender being a factor really brought me to tears. What if libraries hired staff this way and changed how interviews are traditionally done? I’ve always wondered whether I’ve attended an interview only to be “ thin-sliced” by my interviewers.
It was interesting to read that the National Symphony Orchestra was shocked ( I don’t understand what there is to be shocked about) but this suggests that we still have a long way to go when it comes to issues of gender equality. There is a lot to be gleaned from this example. As librarians, we need to ensure that all vertical teams include all voices, not just the ones managing the orchestra, but the ones who are playing in the orchestra, as well as the ones who are listening to the orchestra being played. The foundational reading, “Think Like a Startup” inspires us to invent our own practices with the quote “ Don’t just copy and paste from other libraries: invent!( Mathews 2012) ” Like the National Symphony Orchestra’s hiring practice to eliminate gender bias, librarians need to invent such practices in their organizations too!
As librarians, we really need to work on ways to be aware of our own biases when dealing with patrons and staff and be aware of the consequences when we need to be wary of our snap judgments. This is another great reason to include our user’s feedback when designing new programs and services, because our own attitudes and prejudices may come into play when making decisions. We may lead ourselves down in wrong paths that we may not even suspect. As librarians, we need to be aware that these prejudices exist and then mold and enrich our experiences to be better prepared to make choices. We must strive to be transparent in all our dealings and make decisions based on more than just first impressions and snap judgments. It’s important to be objective rather than subjective when making decisions about library programs and services. We need to harness the power of our intuition while also being aware of its drawbacks. We need to use this knowledge about human decision making to overcome difficulties we face as a society when making decisions.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: a Guide to Participatory Library Service.
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Company.