Blink

Malcolm Gladwell

Created on Monday, October 24, 2011.
 

Gladwell talks about the human faculty for snap decision-making, how it can be trained, and how it can let us down. His examination of the Millenium Challenge 2002 wargames as a competition between snap decision-making and systematic decision-making was very, very interesting.

 
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“On Paul Van Riper’s first tour in Southeast Asia, when he was out in the bush, serving as an advisor to the South Vietnamese, he would often hear gunfire in the distance. He was then a young lieutenant new to combat, and his first thought was always to get on the radio and ask the troops in the field what was happening. After several weeks of this, however, he realized that the people he was calling on the radio had no more idea than he did about what the gunfire meant. It was just gunfire. It was the beginning of something — but what that something was was not yet clear. So Van Riper stopped asking. On his second tour of Vietnam, whenever he heard gunfire, he would wait. "I would look at my watch,” Van Riper says, “and the reason I looked was that I wasn’t going to do a thing for five minutes. If they needed help, they were going to holler. And after five minutes, if things had settled down, I still wouldn’t do anything. You’ve got to let people work out the situation and work out what’s happening. The danger in calling is that they’ll tell you anything to get you off their backs, and if you act on that and take it at face value, you could make a mistake. Plus you are diverting them. Now they are looking upward instead of downward. You’re preventing them from resolving the situation.”“

 

”“I can understand how all the concepts that Blue was using translate into planning for an engagement,” Van Riper says. “But does it make a difference in the moment? I don’t believe it does. When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance. Suppose you had a rifle company pinned down by machine-gun fire. And the company commander calls his troops together and says, ‘We have to go through the command staff with the decision-making process.’ That’s crazy. He should make a decision on the spot, execute it, and move on. If we had had Blue’s processes, everything we did would have taken twice as long, maybe four times as long. The attack might have happened six or eight days later. The process draws you in. You disaggregate everything and tear it apart, but you are never able to synthesize the whole. It’s like the weather. A commander does not need to know the barometric pressure or the winds or even the temperature. He needs to know the forecast. If you get too caught up in the production of information, you drown in the data.”“

 

”“Some of these new thinkers say if we have better intelligence, if we can see everything, we can’t lose,” Colonel Van Riper said. “What my brother always says is, 'Hey, say you are looking at a chess board. Is there anything you can’t see? No. But are you guaranteed to win? Not at all, because you can’t see what the other guy is thinking.’ More and more commanders want to know everything, and they get imprisoned by that idea. They get locked in. But you can never know everything.”“

 

"Whenever we have something that we are good at — something we care about — that experience and passion fundamentally change the nature of our first impressions. This does not mean that when we are outside our areas of passion and experience, our reactions are invariably wrong. It just means that they are shallow. They are hard to explain and easily disrupted. They aren’t grounded in real understanding.”

 

“Grossman says that everyone should practice dialing 911 for this very reason, because he has heard of too many situations where, in an emergency, people pick up the phone and cannot perform this most basic of functions. With their heart rate soaring and their motor coordination deteriorating, they dial 411 and not 911 because that’s the only number they remember, or they forget to press "send” on their cell phone, or they simply cannot pick out the individual numbers at all. “You must rehearse it,” Grossman says, “because only if you have rehearsed it will it be there.”“

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