Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink

Almost a year ago, I read and reviewed Malcolm Gladwell’s very popular Outliers: The Story of Success. I thought it was pretty entertaining and enlightening, so when I finally had some time to read another book, I picked up another book from the same author – Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It’s also a very famous book. I guess once an author becomes popular from one book, all his other books will also become popular – I call this the Dan Brown effect. And not in a good way – there are many bad books that got sold more than good books simply because the author is famous, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

I was fairly disappointed by this book. If I had to come up with an explanation (which the author strongly discourages in this book) for the disappointment, I would say it’s because the book is a combination of being Captain Obvious, and talking BS, using logical fallacies to “substantiate” his claims. In fact, I’m so disappointed with it that I decided to write this review when I’m only 3/4 the way through the book, because I don’t think I’ll finish it.

In essence, in this book, Malcolm tries to convince people to, instead of spending time, gathering all available information, and making informed decisions, they should rely on intuition and the “blink of an eye” feeling. On “thin-slicing”.

He then went on and give a few examples of good decisions made in the blink of an eye that saved the day.

Yeah well, if you get me to make 50 binary decisions in the blink of an eye, I’d probably be able to get half of them right, too. The fact that some historical good decisions were made in the blink of an eye does not mean there aren’t equally many bad decisions made in the blink of an eye, or that worse decisions would have been made if the decision maker had more time.

Yes, some decisions have to be made in the blink of an eye by necessity – his examples include on the battle field, and dangerous firefighting situations. That does not mean we make better decisions in those situations, and that we should rush to conclusions even when we had the luxury of time to carefully consider all information.

That is the BS part.

In the book, he made it seem like he is just making one claim – that we should rush decisions. However, if we dig a little deeper, it’s apparent that he is drawing examples from 2 very different pools.

The first group he drew from is what we discussed above – where people get lucky and happen to make good decisions in the blink of an eye. Again, doesn’t mean anything.

In the second group of examples, someone, with a lot of experience and expertise in the matter at hand, were able to make good decisions in shorter time than others. Yes, we know that. So what? It doesn’t add anything to his claims.

That’s the Captain Obvious part.

I think I should stop ranting now.

Interestingly, I’m far from the only person that disagrees with the book. Someone even wrote a whole book (Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can’t Be Made in the Blink of an Eye) to disagree with this book!

I Believe I Can Fly

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Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

This summer, at a place far far away from home, my biggest childhood dream just came true. It’s good to have dreams, and even better to have them come true once in a while.

As of August 28, 2012, I am now a FAA certified private pilot.

It wasn’t easy, and not everyone can do it. Most people who started it never finished it. I did, and I’m pretty happy about that.

It took me about 8 months in total, using up most of my weekends. In the past 2 months, I actually had to get up at 6:30AM in the morning everyday, to take a 1.5 hours flight before going to work at 11, to make sure I can finish my training on time.

It’s a great feeling when all the hard work pays off though! In the end, the flight test was really not that bad. I KNEW I can fly an airplane. All I had to do that day was to prove that to the examiner. Turned out, she was so impressed with my flying that she couldn’t wait till I taxi back to tell me that my flying was “gorgeous”, and that I should think about eventually becoming a flight instructor!

I think flying is one of those things that really made me realize how practice can make perfection. I would say the experience is way more valuable than the end result.

Of course, I didn’t always felt that way through the whole ordeal. At some point, even the thought of quitting crossed my mind. I’m so glad I didn’t give in. One time I felt that way was when I was learning to land, about half way through the training.

Landings are the hardest part to learn in flying, because while the theory is very easy, a lot of it depends on muscle memory and just “intuition” of what the plane will do in different situations, and how control inputs will change things. There’s really no other way to learn landings except practice, practice, and practice. It took me about 100 landings to get to the point where they are consistent and at least “safe” if not very smooth.

The problem is, a real airplane is not like Microsoft Flight Sim. You can’t just keep reloading a save file and try the landing over the over. In a real airplane, a landing must be accompanied by a take-off, and a flight in the traffic pattern (a rectangular course around the airport), and that takes about 10 minutes, for every 30 seconds of landing practice, while the clock is ticking at $150/hr for plane + instructor.

After a few weeks of doing the same thing over and over, and watching the money flow out of the bank account like water through a river, all the while not noticing any improvement, it really becomes frustrating and makes you doubt yourself a lot. Every “controlled crash” is like the aviation god testing you to see if you REALLY want to be a pilot.

The story has a happy ending though. One day, everything just felt right for some reason, and I was able to do consistent landings all day. Now I actually feel landings are relaxing and pretty fun. According to my instructor, that’s how ALL student pilots learn landings. They just “get it” one day for no apparent reason. Pretty funny stuff (unless you are going through it).

So if you are a student pilot reading this blog – keep going! There really is cake at the end of the tunnel!

My next step – write a written test to convert my license to a Canadian license, and keep flying!

There is SO much to learn in aviation, that a pilot license is really just a license to learn. Every time I fly, with or without an instructor, I always learn at least a thing or two, making me a slightly better pilot. I really like it that way (unlike driving, where every time you drive, you just die a little thanks to bad drivers). Mighty excited!