Among the thought provoking topics Gladwell presents in Blink, I found slicing as one the most interesting. The idea that short snippets of information can potentially allow more accurate perceptions of people and situations than longer periods with in-depth study and exposure to information. The awareness of the unconscious realizations occurring much quicker and more accurately than cognitive thought, inspires additional pontificate on ways to cut through the noise that interferes with conscious thoughts. Additionally, his identification of potential noise spurs the mind to ignore the slices offer opportunities to understand potential causes for historical perceptions that have proven to be incorrect. While reading Gladwell’s elaboration on the various methods of slicing, several historical business decisions come to mind. Gladwell’s review of speed dating offers many similarities to my experiences interviewing candidates to fill vacant positions on various teams I have managed.
My process for interviewing candidates is a multistep process, where my first interview is normally no more than 30 minutes, containing about 15-20 minutes of my explaining the position being filled and the needs of the company. Gladwell specifically identified the purpose was not to determine if both speed dating parties want to establish a relationship together. The purpose was to decide if each person has enough interest in the other, to at least learn more about him/her. In the 10 minutes where I directly interview candidates for skills and competencies, I am simply deciding if I want to bring this person in to learn more detail about their skills and competencies. Gladwell also identifies that slicing is not always effective, due to noise received by the conscious self, sometimes allowing cognitive thought to challenge the unconscious perception.
Although I take detailed notes on each candidate, there are many instances where, despite the notes and the observed mannerisms, my ‘gut’ suggested an opposite direction from the logical choice. In retrospect, I realize that during these initial interviews, as I put significant effort into evaluating skills and competencies as a whole. There was just too much data reviewed, instead of focussing on individual slices of data. In some cases my mind even justified the potential issues, offering undue credit to candidates because of their persuasive discussions and mannerisms, thereby continuing the hiring process with candidates that should not have made it past the first round. During one interview in particular, I was filling a position as Category Manager and my pool of candidates was somewhat limited.
My company’s push to hire diversity candidates made the pool even shallower. After bringing candidates in for first round interviews, I decided to post the position online for a second time. The subsequent candidates were not significantly better than the first round. I could not identify a specific reason for my disinterest in the candidates, they just didn’t feel right. Most did not offer the typical image I associated with a successful category manager. As a favor to a colleague, I agreed to interview a wild card candidate for my vacancy. She had no experience with category management, but her career history showed steady progression and 3.8 GPA throughout her chemical Engineering major offered evidence of her intelligence. My colleague spoke very highly of her abilities and during the initial interview her image was consistent with high performing category managers I have known in the past. In reviewing my notes after the interview, I documented her lack of experience as being a key opportunity.
Although my logical decision should have been to remove her from the list going forward, I followed my ‘gut’ and continued the interview process with her. As the process continued, she was eventually hired for the position on my team. I had somehow convinced myself that she could learn the trade and excel at it in a short period of time. Within a few months of hiring her, we both realized she wasn’t going to meet the requirements of the position and eventually, she went back to her previous company. I couldn’t help but wonder how she could have performed so well during the interview compared to the other candidates, but not be able to perform the duties of the actual job itself. After finishing Gladwell’s elaboration on priming, I gained better insights as to potential reasons why I hired the wrong person.
Gladwell offered great examples of priming and how key words can impact an individual’s performance on tests. During the interview process, I normally discuss my educational and career history in an effort to reduce anxiety in candidates. I can’t help but wonder if during my discussions, I primed candidates, thereby pushing them to perform at anticipated levels based on my initial perception as they entered the first interview. Based on this theory, the words I chose during the interview process could have unintentionally encouraged one candidate and discouraged others. I find the concept of priming to be very thought provoking and it will definitely impact my speech at the beginning of each interview.
Although Gladwell’s discussion regarding interpretations of slices of time proposes a more accurate perception is achieved by the unconscious mind well in advance of the conscious mind. Key points perceived during the initial moments could potentially shape my perception and thereby cause the subconscious to choose priming words to reinforce that perception. Being aware of this possibility is a key part of addressing it. From my experience illustrated above, focusing on neutral wording during future interviews will be a priority going forward.