Imagine you are a Marine on patrol through a busy market place in Afghanistan, or a police officer chasing a criminal through the side streets in New York City.  The countless split second decisions you make in these situations can be the difference between making it through the experience with your life, or the life of an innocent civilian.  Was that a gun he was pulling out of his pocket or was it a black wallet?  Do you chase an insurgent blindly into an alley, or do you slow down and proceed more cautiously?  How you make that decision is the topic of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink.

The reason that Blink is in the “first books to read” category of our reading list is because the book reads as if it’s tailored to us: the military and law enforcement communities.  Every person makes the type of snap judgments that Gladwell writes about, but very few have to deal with the consequences for making the wrong snap decision as the police and military do.

Blink is a book about “thin slicing,” which is defined as rapid decision-making after being presented with only a very tiny amount of information. It is told through stories instead of facts, graphs, and diagrams, making it a very quick read while driving home the benefit of thin-slicing: that the decisions you make with very limited information are usually highly accurate.  The essence of thin-slicing and making these highly accurate observations isn’t about knowing everything that is happening or gathering all of the facts before making a decision.  In fact, it is the exact opposite.  By restricting your search to a few key principles, the chances of you making an observation that is correct versus a lucky guess go way up

He acknowledges the fact that a person’s ability to do this becomes limited when they are observing something outside of their area of expertise.  For a person with no training in a specific area, their ability to accurately thin-slice is no better than chance.  You will have about a 50-50 chance of being correct in what you decide the outcome of an engagement might be.  During one particular story where Gladwell talks about an improve comedy group and a pre-Iraq invasion war game going on at the Pentagon, he highlights what the difference between a person who has a 50-50 chance and a person who can make highly accurate assessments.  What actually separates those that can accurately thin-slice under fast paced and high stress environments is significant time spent in training and rules and rehearsals.

How it fits into Tactical Analysis

We, as humans, pick up on the slightest of patterns that we can see on people and objects around us, and with only a minimal amount of information, make a decision that has an incredibly high degree of accuracy.  This concept of thin-slicing has helped shape the design of our course, by teaching the patterns that you are likely to see in regards to threat behavior, we can help to improve the decisions you make about people you are observing and have a greater amount of time to figure out how you are going to respond.

Because like the experts that are highlighted in Blink, who don’t look at all the information available but look for specific things and only look for a specific amount of that information, our domains of observable behavior are what we want to limit your observations to and to look for no more than three anomalies or indicators.  This is why we talk about the Rule of 3’s, where as soon as you identify 3 anomalies (3 at the most) you must make a decision on how you deal with it.  You don’t wait to try and find 9 or 10 pieces of supporting information; it is too much and will likely cloud your judgment and decrease the chances of you being correct.

Even though everyone of us has been “people watching,” we still require repeated and detailed practice in profiling so that we can thin-slice with a high degree of accuracy.  What this repetition builds is a database housed in the unconscious section of our brain, which allows us to learn to be spontaneous.  By spontaneous, I mean that we will be capable of applying the lessons we have learned and developed through practice in a constantly changing and dynamic situation.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his writing of Blink, offers us the ability to thin-slice.  By pulling together the experience of so many experts in their respective fields, he shows us what is possible and tells us how to reach that level.  To achieve that success, well that part is up to us.

You can pick up Blink from Amazon by clicking here.

Want to see other books that we have read and recommend? Take a look at our complete reading list for our other suggestions.