The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Continuing our Thinking Week, let’s move from the structure of Morgan Jones to the adaptive unconscious of the mind as depicted in Malcolm Gladwell’s classic book “blink“.

Gladwell weaves compelling stories as diverse as the uncovering of a fraud in ancient statuary to that of a classical trombonist auditioning for the lead chair in a world-class orchestra. The power of these and other stories in the book is that our mind has an uncanny ability to quickly make decisions that can be every bit as good as decisions made curiously and deliberately. So much for structure and analysis!


The problem is that our unconscious is a powerful force. But it can be fallible. It can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled. Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments. Are we then not to trust our instincts?
Gladwell does an amazing job of laying out the case that the mind can be educated and controlled when it comes to making snap judgements and first impressions. Gladwell captivates the reader with stories that help us understand the power of instantaneous impressions and conclusions that spontaneously arise whenever we meet a new persons or confront a complex situation or have to make a decision under conditions of stress.
What do you think? Can there be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis?

Thinking About Thinking

Have you ever thought about how we think? Since reading Brain Rules and the sequel Brain Rules for Baby, I have been fascinated by the thought process we go through to make decisions. Here’s a whirlwind tour of some great resources on thinking.

The Thinker’s Toolkit

Former CIA analyst Morgan Jones argues that the single most important factor missing from most decision-making processes is structure. Structure for him means a logical framework in which to focus discussion on key points, keeping it focused so that each element and factor of a problem is analyzed separately, systematically, and sufficiently. Jones goes on to say that humans tend to avoid analytic structure that because structuring one’s analysis is fundamentally at odds with the way the human mind works.

Human beings are problem solvers by nature. Yet in order to reach most solutions, we go through a process of trial and error. In all human affairs, from marriage to marketing to management, success is generally built upon failure. And why some failures are justly attributable to bad luck, most result from faulty decisions based on mistaken analysis.

Here is a list of some of what Jones calls analytic sins:

  • We commonly begin our analysis of a problem by formulating our conclusions; we thus start at what should be the end of the analytic process.
  • Our analysis usually focuses on the solution we intuitively favor; we therefore give inadequate attention to alternative solutions.
  • Not surprisingly, the solution we intuitively favor is, more often than not, the first one that seems satisfactory.
  • We tend to confuse “discussion/thinking hard” about a problem with “analyzing” it, when in fact the two activities are not at all the same.
  • We focus on the substance (evidence, arguments, and conclusions) and not on the process of our analysis.
  • Most people are fundamentally illiterate when it comes to structuring their analysis.

If we take a structured approach in thinking, the mind remains open, enabling one to examine each element of the decision or problem separately. The outcome is almost always more comprehensive and more effective than following our instincts alone.

Think about that…