Blink Think


Blink Think is the phrase we use when discussing Malcolm Gladwell’s book BLINK The Power of Thinking without Thinking.

BLINK is Gladwell’s follow-up book to his best seller THE TIPPING POINT.

BLINK is about decision making and intuition – and we think it is an important book that helps explain, and enables one to better understand, why family business entrepreneurs decision making process is so different from non-entrepreneurial executives.

Gladwell discusses what psychologists refer to as the “adaptive unconscious” – a word which describes that part of the brain function that creates our sense of intuition.

“Thin-slicing” is how Gladwell talks about decisions that are made with a minimum of information: “Rapid cognition, known as “thin-slicing”, refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience."

Don Schwerzler, a pioneer in dealing with family business dynamics, has been studying and advising family business entrepreneurs for more than 40 years

Schwerzler, the founder of the atlanta-based Family Business Institute , uses the term Blink Think” when describing family business entrepreneurs – “they tend to reach decisions while other members of the family business management team are still gathering information!”

“In fact, sometimes when a lot of additional information is added to the decision making equation – the family business entrepreneur’s sense of “what feels right” seems to be diminished,” according to Schwerzler. “Whether these entrepreneurs are dealing with positive or negative intuitions, they tend to go with their ‘gut feelings’ - it’s what makes their family businesses successful.”

Of course Blink Think is a frustrating business leadership style for conventional managers in a family business as well as for many of the professional service providers to family businesses – some may even describe the Blink Think management style as absolutely reckless!

As family businesses transition from one generation to the next – as the family business grows, as the issues become more sophisticated and the span of control of the Blink Think family business entrepreneur is becoming less involved in many of the day-to-day decisions of the business. The disengagement of the entrepreneur's "intuition" can create a highly problematic business environment. Dealing with these situations is part of our family business succession management process.

If Blink Think is a common decision making trait amongst family business entrepreneurs when they make intuition-based decisions – the opposite would be someone who seeks out ever-more information, data and statistics. These folks belabor the decision making process trying to ensure that they will make the right decision – they want to move forward thoughtfully and deliberately.

But Blink Think is not always positive.

An interesting example of how powerful Blink Think can be (in this example, producing a negative result) is what happened at a presidential news conference.

We discussed the incident with a well-regarded political science expert re the media storm created by President Obama when speaking about the arrest of one of his friends, a professor at Harvard University. On a nationally televised press conference, Obama said the police involved “acted stupidly” and suggested it was yet another example of “racial profiling”.

As we were discussiong the situation, the political expert explained that he was really surprised that Obama would make such a serious mistake. But as we talked about this incident, in the context of Blink Think, the expert made an interesting observation. Obama is a highly programmed person. Every thing he talks about is based on extensive polling and focus group testing. Every speech is read from teleprompters to make sure he stays “scripted” – every word is parsed. His handlers try to reduce the opportunities for him to deviate from what he is expected to say – to make sure he stays on target with his message – a strategy or process that has certainly proven to be wildly successful for Obama.

But in the news conference about the arrest of his friend, Obama came off the script – and perhaps Blink Think (his unconscious experience) caused him to react in terms of his experience as a community organizer and his work with A.C.O.R.N. - where race-baiting and class warfare are two of the more commonly used tactics. Frequently, radical organizations like A.C.O.R.N. use emotionally-charged labels and slogans like "racial profiling", when they are using the media to attack and disparage the police and/or other law enforcement agencies.

The debate about this incident is expected to have a life of it’s own for many news cycles...

Gladwell’s book BLINK offers many interesting insights about how our unconscious mind influences the way we make decisions – hence the title BLINK The Power of Thinking without Thinking!

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