Blink: Making decisions under uncertainty

blink coverMost entrepreneurs routinely depend upon the “blink” reaction. Given an incomplete set of information on which to base day-to-day business choices, it becomes necessary to make fast decisions, with little more to fall back on, than a gut feeling. However, most business people are reluctant to admit that they use intuition to make critical choices.

In a way, the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell served to dispel some of the sense of uneasiness that many people have regarding the soundness of using the first knee jerk reaction as a basis for making serious business decisions. Whether or not one agrees that the first reaction is the correct one, most busy entrepreneurs and executives do recognize that in situations where decisions need to be made with incomplete information, some combination of quick analytics, and just plain old gut reaction is crucial.

blink eyesBlink deals with the first two seconds - the time when you meet someone for the first time, or hear about something new. In that first instant of time, you have made up your mind - I like it or I don’t like it. Malcolm Gladwell argues that the rapid cognitive process that occurs in the first two seconds leads to a better judgment than the methodical and deliberative analysis that is generally considered to be a more sound basis from which to make a decision.

I tend to agree with the “blink” hypothesis. While we reject “intuition” as somehow less appropriate as a basis for decisions, than analytics, it is important to recognize that intuition is not just the baseless flash of perception that it is frequently portrayed as. Rather, intuition is a sum total of the facts, and information that is currently available, combined with a rich history of past experience stored in the memory, that the mind subconsciously adds up into a single line item, and delivers as the final decision.

As entrepreneurs making many quick decisions every day, or as investors who need to look through large numbers of business plans to pick the one the will “make the fund”, the ability to make a “blink” judgment is crucial. However, it cannot be overlooked that there are many situations where more methodical deliberation is needed, and appropriate, such as when an investor is doing due diligence on a potential investment. It can certainly lead to uncovering and learning facts that were not known before. But in the end, it still comes back to the sniff test - does this deal smell right. That is when you have to go back to your intuition - and let your blink reaction add up all the tangible and intangible information, and lead you to the best choice.


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