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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Thin-Slicing

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Gladwell talks about the concept of thin-slicing -

"the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience." [p. 23]

For instance, during a particular event, we tend to act like detectives of situations, thin-slicing them and discovering, examining, and retaining facts, senses, feelings, and other information. We then process that information very quickly and make snap decisions. Hunches. First impressions. Gut reactions. They tend to be "on" or not and we tend to either trust them or not.

...this is the way our unconscious works. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch, our unconscious... [is] sifting through the situation in front of us, throwing out all that is irrelevant while we zero in on what really matters. And the truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking. [p. 34]

The questions that Gladwell raises are how we go about doing this, and whether or not we can increase our abilities to make decisions in a blink. His answer, again, is "yes" we can. Yes, we can learn to trust our unconscious. We can also learn to train ourselves by honing our intuitions, using them, trusting them, and then functioning as more effective leaders.

I'm inclined to agree with Gladwell. I've functioned like this for a long time in certain areas of my life. I make snap decisions based on a hunch, and only later was I able to really reationally describe how and why I made that decision, even if those variables never consciously entered my mind. That seems dangerous, though, doesn't it? And how can we increase not only our abilities to trust the blink, but our effectiveness in the blink of an eye as well? That's the big question that Gladwell tries to work out. By and large I think he hits it well from two vantage points:

  1. from the psychological standpoint in explaining how this happens
  2. from an experiential and case-study standpoint in showing examples of people who do this well

But he's missing something as well. I've found through the years that much "secular" literature is playing with the truth because "Christ plays in ten thousand places" as Hopkins says, but many are unable to see him. They catch glimpses of his garment as he passes by, and what they describe is true, but is not the full picture. It misses revelatory elements that come through personal knowledge of the one who not only designed, but who is still infusing the world with creative energy. In follow-up posts, I'll engage more of Gladwell's book, but also try to fill it out from a vantage point that takes seriously the transcendent God active in daily life.


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