Having More Faith in the Snap Judgments

For so long we have been taught to stop, take our time and think carefully before making an important decision.

However, before we go head first into the world of lengthy analysis and research to get our answers, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the value and reliability of our impressions and snap judgments.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink,” in complex situations, our first impressions are often more accurate than lengthy analysis. Gladwell argues that, “Knowing too much — learning too much information, processing too many variables — often backfires. It makes our judgment more prone to error.”

For example, recent studies have shown how accurate first impressions of Facebook photos are in conveying information about our personalities. “Simply by just looking at natural photos of other people, you can usually do a pretty good job of accurately gauging nine out of 10 personality characteristics: We look through Facebook profiles and gain a rather accurate account of individuals based on pictures, personal descriptions and status updates.”

In an article in BusinessWeek, Gladwell says focus groups should be abolished because of the bias they create. Essentially, the problem lies in the lack of a natural setting. Often times, focus groups allow people to change their mind about topics more than once or twice based on time, language and the opinions of others.

Having more information and more people to bounce ideas off creates a tendency for people to talk themselves out of their gut instincts. This weakens research because natural, unbiased attitudes are often missing.

It’s also important to recognize that surveys too have a tendency to create inconsistent reactions out of people, based on the language, bias, tone or length of the question. Always keep in mind that individuals do stifle real opinions based on the language or context of the survey or focus group.

What about when snap judgments are false? According to Gladwell, it’s crucial to pay attention and use our common sense to differentiate between good and bad cognition. However, in some instances our two-second judgments lead us astray, most often when one of the following is involved:

- Gender
- Race
- The wrong context/environment
- High states of stress/arousal

Claiming that a tall person would make an effective leader is one example Gladwell uses as bad cognition. We can avoid errors and differentiate situations better if we are aware of what it is that triggers our judgments.

The take home message here is to never dismiss your impressions and snap judgments. On a greater context, I think it's incredibly valuable to think twice about spending time and money on research that may be less beneficial than what you or your team already know. For specific numbers and many obvious unknown details, extensive research is necessary. Nonetheless, I genuinely believe we'd be better off foregoing the hassling surveys and focus groups - for the common sense.

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