Thinkin’ and Blinkin’

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Andy Woodrow
  • 9th Physiological Support Squadron
'In the blink of an eye' is a familiar expression; it suggests that significant events in life can pass us by without warning and much faster than we can prepare. Applied to raising children; 'in the blink of an eye' they are grown and pioneering their own life story. Applied to a much anticipated event like a special trip to a far-off place; 'in the blink of an eye' you are returned home, unpacking and getting swept back into the day-to-day grind. In the fast jet environment where closure rates between two aircraft can be in excess of 800 mph, a blink can be the difference between acquiring a target and becoming a target. And, on that long drive home as the hypnotic drone of the tires beckons you onward, each blink becomes extended until a full-on micro-nap overtakes you. Physiologically, it is impossible to stare, unblinking for more than a few seconds before the surface of eye begins to dry out and the lids succumb to the urging of the brain to 'BLINK!' If the brain itself 'blinks' we have effectively closed the shutters for a moment; no light in and no light out. So, what's the link between this physiological and philosophical review of blinking and effective leadership?

Popular theory about decision making and sound judgment may lead you to believe that taking a few moments to 'blink and think' is wise. In most leadership situations, there are few reasons to make a snap decision; gathering support information, collecting ideas from key team members and reaching into the experience bucket may be an effective way to blink and think. Contrary to this approach, author Malcolm Gladwell in his 2005 book 'Blink' investigates the popular science concept of 'thin-slicing'; the ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. Through various examples the author suggests that spontaneous decisions are often as good as--or even better than--carefully planned and considered ones. In other words, time by itself does not lead to better decisions. I would propose that there is, in fact, a place and time to 'blink and think'; especially when it comes to decisions that impact people. In the continuum of blinking, I believe that over-analyzing a situation (staring it down) not only delays a decision but can create more problems linked to a lost opportunity to act. On the other end of the spectrum, knee-jerk reactions can lead to inaccurate or incomplete responses. In both extremes, the ineffective leader begins to wear down the confidence of the troops; soon trust and loyalty ebb, performance is diminished and opportunities to build a team are lost. So, where is the sweet spot for a blink?

In the finest scientific tradition, this author would say 'It depends'. Overall, there are very few times that I work inside a vacuum (unless of course, I am in the altitude chamber!). I find that the strength of a decision comes from gathering the relevant facts, tapping on the wisdom of my leadership team and taking a few moments to consider the anticipated outcome. In short, I am a devotee of blinking and thinking. Application of the physiological and philosophical components of a blink tends to strengthen the intended outcome and lead to a solid foundation of mentorship through example. Go on, then...take a moment and blink.