Blink, Blink Fizz

If you like books the chances are you only read them once and then they go back on the shelf. Or dropped off at the local charity shop.

So is there one so good you read it twice? Or three times? More?

One of the titles I love dipping into again and again is by author, journalist and cultural commentator Malcolm Gladwell.

The book is called Blink.

The chapter I recall best is one about a shooting in the Bronx area of New York.

Four cops are on patrol late at night in an unmarked car and they spot a guy in a doorway. The first cop to spot the guy thinks it looks suspicious. There have been robberies in the neighbourhood where people have pretended to be a visitor and then pushed their way in past the door. The guy also matched a description of a rapist.

They back their vehicle up to take a closer look.

The guy doesn’t move. If anything he tries to hide himself ¬†at the top of the steps leading to the door.

One cop held up his badge and asked if they could have a word. The guy on the steps said nothing.

Two officers get out and start heading towards the guy. A small guy.

Remember, the police team was in plain clothes. Jeans, sweatshirts, bullet proof vests underneath, and wearing baseball caps.

The guy was called Diallo. A friend of his had been robbed by an armed gang recently.

Diallo sees the advancing men, pauses, then runs back into the vestibule. Two officers give chase.

Diallo reached the inside door, trying to turn the doorknob and get something out of his pocket with his other hand. The police shout to say they want to see his hands. Diallo keeps his hand on the door.

With the other hand he starts to bring out a dark object and hold it towards the officers.

The police spot it. It’s a gun!

One officer opens fire. The second one instinctively jumps back and as he falls off the step fires a shot. The first officer, believing has colleague has been hit, keeps firing at his target. The other two officers got out of the vehicle and they also fired at Diallo.

A potential crime averted.

On another night that might have been the case. On this one the police got it 100 per cent wrong.

Diallo wasn’t a would-be robber or rapist. He lived in one of the apartments there with his roommates.

This wasn’t a lookout checking to see the coast was clear before attempting a crime.

This was a guy who just wanted to get some night air out on the steps.

This was a guy just minding his own business.

This was a guy who wound up dead because the officers mis-read the situation. They tried to read it but made a series of bad mistakes. Fatal mistakes.

Diallo was killed.

To get a sense of the carnage you only have to listen to the song Bruce Springstein wrote in Diallo’s honour. The song is chillingly called “41 Shots”.

What went wrong?

Well, the first officer was suspicious. It was almost as if there had to be something odd or wrong about this guy.

The officers didn’t know, of course, that Diallo had a stutter. His English was not the best. And he was suspicious of others because a friend had been forcibly robbed recently.

The officers were not in uniform. To Diallo they could just have been another gang looking for their next victim.

When they started coming towards him, he was scared.

He was trying to get back into his apartment building. That’s why he had one hand on the doorknob.

As for the gun?

He had nothing of the sort in his hand. The “gun” the officers saw was in fact Diallo’s wallet. He was getting it out so the “robbers” could take it and leave him alone.

The four officers were tried but acquitted of murder.

Diallo, originally from Guinea, was dead at the age of 22.

The Reading Of Minds

In the book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell goes on to explore how as humans we are trying to “read minds” every day. We’ve been doing it since we were a baby.

Looking at signs and signals. Trying to work out what they mean.

It’s the sort of thing that happens in business, too.

The seller tries to read the mind of the prospect.

The prospective buyer tries to judge whether their next purchase is the right one.

Will it work? Will it look good on me? Will my friends like it? Will my colleagues approve? Will it make me look smart? Will it make people think I’m smart?

Will it do what I want it to do? Will it last? Will it solve my problem?

The entrepreneur who designs and creates a product because they see a “need” or a “gap in the market”. Then appears on the Dragon’s Den television programme anticipating an investment in their company… only to be told their idea is ridiculous. And, no, none of the Dragons will be investing. They’re out.

The disappointed business had relied on a gut feeling or a guess that their product would be a hit. No research behind it’s viability. Just an attempt at reading the public or corporate’s mind.

The business which has a clear market but doesn’t know how to talk to the people in it. Which results in:

Marketing created and based on assumptions rather than deep understanding.

Marketing that misses the mark.

Marketing that looks like all the other marketing out there.

Marketing that appeals to the head but not the heart.

Marketing with the wrong tools.

Marketing using the wrong approaches or strategies.

Marketing which loses money instead of makes you money.

Blink is a book about moments when you “know” something without knowing precisely why.

It’s about mind-reading. Decision-making. Snap judgements.

The four policemen who shot and killed Diallo got almost everything wrong.

In his book, Gladwell recounts how some security guards are given special training so they know how to react in given situations.

The section of this chapter which struck me most was an interview with an experienced police officer. He described one of his callouts.

He was chasing three teenage gang members. One jumped the fence, the second ran in front of the police car. The third just stood still like a rabbit in headlights.

The officer and his partner could see this kid trying to grab something inside his leg pants. The officers ordered him to stop. The veteran officer approached the kid. The kid was pulling out a gun.

The officer didn’t fire. He waited a fraction of a second more.

The kid pulled the gun out to around his stomach area… and then dropped the gun to the floor.

The officers took him into custody.

The veteran policeman explained that it was experience which guided his snap decision as he saw the kid pull out the weapon.

The kid was 14 years old but “looked nine”. The kid had genuine fear in his face. The officer had the sense he could beat the teenager to the trigger. He gave him just that extra bit of time to allow him to drop the gun.

Had it been an adult?

The officer said he would have fired.

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