Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blinking and Thinking

I started a new online class this week, which will be eating into my blogging time. The class is grandiosely titled Leadership for the Information Age, but since I like grandiosity, just look at my blog mastheads, I figured this would be right up my alley. The very first reading assignment was from the book Blink, by Malcom Gladwell, a terrific read by a terrific writer. The excerpt we were asked to read is about "thin slicing" or rapid cognition, or what most of us call intuition. I guess the point of the reading was to make us aware of differing styles of decision making. But for me, I don't need to reinforce bad habits, and that excerpt from Blink does just that. Here's some quotes from Gladwell's web site for a taste of what I am talking about:

It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds,...
One of the stories I tell in "Blink" is about the Emergency Room doctors at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. That's the big public hospital in Chicago, and a few years ago they changed the way they diagnosed heart attacks. They instructed their doctors to gather less information on their patients: they encouraged them to zero in on just a few critical pieces of information about patients suffering from chest pain--like blood pressure and the ECG--while ignoring everything else, like the patient's age and weight and medical history. And what happened? Cook County is now one of the best places in the United States at diagnosing chest pain.
Now to my problem. The more complex my job has become, I paradoxically seem to have less and less time to just think and analyze. I believe that I am this awesome decision maker like those Chicago doctors, except I don't have the year's of experience in IT that they have in medicine. I make a lot of snap decisions in the course of the day, often based on an email description of a situation, but more often from a phone conversation. I realize how limited those sources of information can be, but I just don't have time to stop and think, and occasionally I make a mistake that takes time and effort to back out of. Now comes this book that is telling me this is all just fine, you can bat a high percentage based on limited information if you concentrate on just the right facts. (Which facts? The RIGHT facts.) Great, rather than impose a little self discipline and carve out time during the day to perform careful thought and analysis, this leadership class is reinforcing my bad habits.

Maybe if I knock out the homework for this course the same way that I make decisions at work, I'll have time to blog after all.

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