Some people have an innate ability to sort through what is and isn't important. They immediately recognize important points and aren't preoccupied by all the other factors surrounding the subject. Others cannot do this and get caught up in the trivial issues that distract from the main subject. This recognition is an enviable skill in this day and age when people and situations are not always what they seem. It's like a general who is able to see and make sense of what is happening on the battlefield without being distracted by all of the things on the periphery.
According to a book I recently read titled Blink, written by Malcolm Gladwell, this phenomenon is called coup d'oeil, which means "power of the glance" in French. Gladwell uses the examples of Napoleon and Patton to illustrate his point. Many of us look at things and are able to deduce that things are not quite right based on our experience and innate intelligence. Gladwell calls it "thin-slicing." He says, "We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot."
To prove his point, Gladwell details the first encounter between Hollywood producer Brian Grazer and actor Tom Hanks. This meeting took place in 1983, before Hanks was a household name. " `He came in and read for the movie "Splash," and right there, in the moment, I can tell you just what I saw,' Grazer said.
" `We read hundreds of people for that part, and other people were funnier than him. But they weren't as likable as him. I felt like I could live inside of him. I felt like his problems were problems I could relate to. You know, in order to make somebody laugh, you have to be interesting, and in order to be interesting, you have to do things that are mean. Comedy comes out of anger, and interesting comes out of angry; otherwise there's no conflict.
" `But he was able to be mean and you forgave him, and you have to be able to forgive somebody, because at the end of the day, you still have to be with him, even after he's dumped the girl or made some choices you don't agree with. All of this wasn't thought out in words at the time. It was an intuitive conclusion that only later I could deconstruct.' "
And the rest, as they say, is history. Tom Hanks is now revered as one of the top actors of our time.
The book is filled with all kinds of fascinating stories and revealing insights into how we think without ever realizing we are thinking. That said, why is it that some people follow their instincts and come out on top while others wind up falling on their faces? No one seems to be able to fathom how our brains really work, although scientists spend plenty of time researching the question.
One of the most intriguing stories in Gladwell's book has to do with President Warren G. Harding. The chapter, titled "The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall for Tall, Dark and Handsome Men," tells the story of a lobbyist named Harry Daugherty who met Harding one day in 1899 while both were having their shoes shined. Gladwell describes Daugherty as "the Machiavelli of Ohio politics, the classic behind-the-scenes fixer, a shrewd and insightful judge of character or, at least, political opportunity." Daugherty was most impressed by Harding's appearance, and thus, the man himself.
A journalist by the name of Mark Sullivan wrote: "Harding was worth looking at. He was at the time about 35 years old. His head, features, shoulders and torso had a size that attracted attention; their proportions to each other made an effect which in any male at any place would justify more than the term handsome."
Sullivan continues on, "His suppleness, combined with his bigness of frame, and his large, wide-set rather glowing eyes, heavy black hair, and markedly bronze complexion gave him some of the handsomeness of an Indian." Sullivan describes how after Harding's shoes had been shined, "His courtesy as he surrendered his seat to the other customer suggested genuine friendliness toward all mankind." There was much more from Sullivan but you get the picture. Harding was impressive, and in that brief encounter Daugherty decided he would make a great president.
The fact was that "Warren Harding was not a particularly intelligent man. He liked to play poker and golf and to drink and, most of all, to chase women; in fact his sexual appetites were the stuff of legend."
What's the one about judging a book by its cover?
We've all looked at someone and, based on their appearance, formed an impression of what they stood for, only to find the opposite to be true. Through this book Gladwell "reveals that great decisionmakers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of `thin-slicing'-filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables."
Don't be deceived,