Guru Gladwell

Fast Company calls Malcolm Gladwell (author of “The Tipping Point” and now “Blink”) as an “Accidental Guru.”

Nowhere is Gladwell’s influence being felt more than in business. Starbucks’ Howard Schultz publicly attributed his company’s success to the tipping-point phenomenon. The public- relations agency Ketchum created what it infelicitously named an “Influencer Relationship Management” database that emulates Gladwell’s model of connectors, mavens, and salesmen. One tech company even named itself TippingPoint Technologies Inc. The mere mention of his name to creative directors or product developers results in nouns not typically associated with business thinkers: He’s a rock star, a spiritual leader, a stud.

Now Gladwell’s back again in bound, written form, this time exploring how first impressions affect decision making. In Blink , he argues that by distilling the first few seconds in which we interact with a person, product, or idea into what is useful information and what is misleading, we can learn to make better decisions. “We talk endlessly about what it means to think about a problem, deliberative thinking and rational thinking,” he says. “But we spend very little time talking about this other kind of thinking, which is happening in a split second and which is having a huge impact on real-world situations.”

To the business world, he’s now a corporate sage, a 21st-century Peter Drucker.

The “useful” that Gladwell advocates in Blink is the idea that we can teach ourselves to sort through first impressions to “figure out which ones are important and which ones are screwing us up.” While most of us would like to think our decision making is the result of rational deliberation, he argues that most of it happens subconsciously in a split second. This process — which Gladwell dubs “rapid cognition” — is where room for both error and insight appears. Many of the snap judgments we make are based on previously formed impressions and are competing with subconscious biases such as emotions and projections. Once we become aware of this, Gladwell argues, we can learn to control rapid cognition by extracting meaning from a “thin slice” of information.

Business Week has a review of Blink.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.