Book Report: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink is Malcolm Gladwell’s second book.  It was a provocative read in many ways.

It comes down to a nutshell. Blink is about split-second decision making and how decisions made quickly are often just as sound if not more so than decisions made after great deliberation. Gladwell calls this “thin-slicing”.

It’s why speed dating works. It’s also why racial profiling and stereotypes exist.

Gladwell is a journalist by trade so his writing takes a speedy clip. This book is filled with captivating examples from a wide-range of disciplines from the arts to marriage counseling.

So, what is the take away for global health work or trainings?

Let’s take “priming” for example.  In the book, Gladwell describes a study where participants play a game of Trivial Pursuit.  For several minutes beforehand, facilitators asked one group to imagine what it would be like to be a university professor.  Facilitators asked another group to spend several minutes imagining that they were soccer hooligans.  When they played the game, those who imagined themselves as the professors fared considerably better. Gladwell states that the only difference between the groups is that the professor group imagined themselves as smart.  What if we primed healthcare workers to think about the lives of their patients before taking a training? What if they could imagine that person engaging in an active, happy life? Would that be a motivator to help them return to that life?

Gladwell writes about how racism and stereotypes can often be based on this same “thin slicing”.  Take a look at the Project Implicit site from Harvard.  It doesn’t look legitimate, but give it a try.  The tests ask you, the user, to make snap judgements of pictures and phrases. You pair words and phrases together.  The scoring can help to uncover biases that the test taker might not be aware of; implicit bias may exist without heartfelt bigotry.

Issues around race, racism, sexism, paternalism, colonialism, and so many other -isms permeate the field of global health. With good reason! What if as a global health community, we made efforts to examine our biases, implicit or otherwise, and framed our work around true equality. It could save lives.

PS: Read more about another Malcolm Gladwell book, The Tipping Point.

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