Saturday, February 25, 2006

Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

My wife and I finished Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Caldwell a couple nights ago. It was really a
fascinating book. The psychology experiments the author mentioned were amazingly clever. I
was particularly intrigued by the studies of the facial muscles and
cataloging all the possible expressions and their meanings. It was humorous to imagine university professors staring at each other and making faces. Nevertheless, the dedication of spending 7 years of one's life studying a single topic in such depth is admirable.

My wife and I disagreed with a couple conclusions the author made in the
book. The most egregious one was in the last chapter. He was talking
about blind auditions for symphonies and orchestras and saying that
the blind auditions had made classical music better. The disagreement
we had with is that he seems to have
forgotten his chapter on Pepsi vs Coke sip tests. In that chapter, he discusses the fact that Pepsi consistently performs better than Coke in blind sip tests. That success rate was what motivated Coca Cola's failure with New Coke in the 1980s. The point of the chapter was to say that nobody drinks soda at home in the form of a sip
test. Therefore, it doesn't really matter which cola performs better in that test. When people drink cola, they are aware of the packaging and all the associations they have with the brand. That awareness affects their experience of the beverage.

We saw that as exactly the problem with the blind auditions:
people don't listen to an orchestra or a symphony behind a blind. They
observe them in the concert hall. A conductor is perfectly
justified in choosing a musician based upon her appearance or the
expectations of his audience. If the audience is going to be distracted
from the music because a female is playing the french horn, that
detracts from the musical experience. Of course, when seleting members of an orchestra for recording purposes, blind auditions are rational.

Overall, the book was fascinating and makes for some good, light reading. I recommend it.

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