Can a business think in a “Blink”? (Part 1)

I’ve just started reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. He examines the mind’s ability to make rapid, intuitive decisions. He asserts that these instinctive reactions are frequently superior to decisions based on deep and careful analysis. Sometimes more information and more time isn’t better.

There are a load of analogies I can make to business analytics. My first reaction (which Gladwell would suggest I trust) is to consider a spectrum of “thinking" that occurs within businesses:

  • At one end, there is “meme-driven" decision-making. Memes are not unlike stereotypes, an issue that Gladwell tackles. Reacting to factors like how a person is dressed or their demographics is dangerous and misleading. However, that type of superficial thinking isn’t to be confused with the reaction that an art expert might have in first seeing a fake. It is the combination of experience and subtle details that offer the instant insight.

  • At the other end of the specturm is intense statistical analysis. Some companies have found their way to a world where decisions require a pound of data as proof. At these organizations, a gaggle of MBAs are running around making up unknowable assumptions to achieve ROIs that exceed a benchmark. This extreme is no better than making decisions without data. It can be worse in that there is a false sense of security about knowing what will happen.

I suspect there is a happy balance between these extremes. Blink offers some ideas as to what this might be.