I finished reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking last night. There have been a million reviews of this book, so I just want to discuss a few points here that are relevant to decision making.
Blink is all about snap decisions. Those decisions made on the fly in very short amounts of time (typically less than 2 seconds). This doesn’t mean they are bad, but that there is no time to engage any reasoning or use any methods to help improve our decisions.
In Decision Making, Less is More
One of the most important points is that the human brain can only hold between 3 and 7 pieces of information at a time. In snap decisions we don’t have time to focus on more than a few key points, but even for more regular decisions more information can inhibit our decision making ability.
Our confidence increases with more information, but our ability to make the right decision stays flat and can even deteriorate. This makes excessive information almost toxic.
Snap Decisions are More Prone to Error
Snap decisions occur in less than 2 seconds, so there is little time to consciously or unconsciously adjust for decision making errors. Errors like automatic associations and visual errors become stronger. Worse, a good snap decision made in normal circumstances becomes confrontational when we are excited or active, such as when chasing someone.
Decision Making can be Improved
Though snap decisions are prone to errors, our ability to make the right decision can be significantly improved with experience and training. Blink is full of examples of people who have years of experience with certain snap decisions and can make very sophisticated decisions with very little information.
Practice Snap Decisions
The typical book course doesn’t appear to do much to improve our decision making abilities. It is much more effective to create a situation in which you make a snap decision repeatedly in a variety of different configurations. Some research discussed in Blink shows that you can improve your snap decisions with as little as 30 minutes of practice.
The key to this practice is to replicate the situation, especially the pressures to make a quick decision. However, even automatic associations of race can be improved by reading good things about black people, for example. This is why earlier I suggested improving your decision making ability by expanding your experiences.
Control the Environment
The other significant factor that contributes to correct decision making is the environment. In cases where we have more time to consider a decision but don’t want to be affected by an association, we can eliminate the effect by removing the information.
Blink gives the example of screens during orchestra auditions to prevent judges from knowing the sex of the applicant. The result was skyrocketing participation rates for women in orchestras. Similar methods can be used to control other biases that can harm our decision making.