Years ago, Legendary NBA Coach (recently retired) Phil Jackson started handing out books to his players, to rectify any flaws or hone any mental aspects of the game in the offseason. If a player had a problem with his jumpshot or defense, that could be rectified in practice, but if a player had an overarching attitude problem, or consistency problem, maybe that would have to be rectified with reading, and contemplation. And so, as far back as the Chicago Bulls era, Phil was handing out what he thought were great books, each one suited for each unique player’s game, personality and weaknesses.
A few years ago, I remember hearing he gave “Blink” to Kobe Bryant. Kobe, more than anything, has been known for these insane last second buzzer beater shots. He’s taken tons of them. And if you factor in all the shots he missed, frankly, his hit/miss ratio isn’t even that good. As the leader and captain on the team, he keeps finding himself with the ball in his hands at the end of games, and usually, he can get a shot off. Phil knew that Kobe was under incredible pressure late in games, in moments where every millisecond counts, and that’s why he gave Kobe this book. If Kobe could just stop thinking altogether, he’d know exactly what to do. What could you improve if you could switch off your mind in the clutch?
This review is going to sound like a Coda to the Steve Jobs book from last week. It just turned out that way. Steve, time and time again, relied on his intuition, laying waste to months and months of work, design, coding, budgets etc. What is our Intuition, really, and why is it so damn smart (at some things), if our senses and hunches seem, at first, so vague?
First, let’s go back to early stages of Man’s evolution. We know that at some point, we were moving around, we were mobile, and we probably travelled in packs and tribes. How did early Man communicate? I can only speculate that there were a lot of visual signals (pointing, imitating large animals, etc), sniffing, tasting, yelling, whimpering, and so on. In other words, even if you toss the spoken word completely, you’re still left with 5 senses, and those can still be employed to communicate (as a modern analogue, pro sports works, as does Improv Theatre, as Gladwell highlights in the book). Just look at a baby: the baby doesn’t know what’s going on, but instinctually does certain things to get what she wants. She’s communicating at primitive levels. And we humans, in the modern era, do a weird thing: We teach ourselves to talk, to read, to study. We even learn thousands of very specific words to describe the world around us. Many of us even learn multiple languages. But if you really think about it, from Shakespeare to Stephen King, writing, at its best, is attempting to describe indescribable things. Writing and speaking, are, by their very nature, bastardizations, muddled, rough, approximations of pure thought and feeling. Verbal and written communication is inherently unclear and abstracted. So where am I going with this? Body language and instinctive forms of communication are pure, and it’s that ‘language’ we have to relearn, if we want to read systems and situations holistically. There is holistic communication going on, whether we like or not, it’s just a matter of understanding the signals.
Kobe Bryant dribbling up the floor with 11 seconds on the clock, down by three, isn’t thinking (we hope) logically, but watching the floor for the tiniest of gaps, perhaps even noticing which of the opposing players is breathing heavily, or limping slightly. Where is the weak point?
Why do some electronics companies spend so much time trying to design beautiful packaging, that seems to cradle the device like a precious jewel? Ultimately the packaging is going to be thrown out, right? The answer is that more companies are realizing that the whole experience of using a product contributes to the ‘Customer Satisfaction Rating‘ and if you push up that rating high enough, you get a sense of what kind of high price you can charge. That’s perceived value. Visual, auditory, olifactory (eg. New Car Smell); it’s obvious that all senses contribute, but perhaps those senses about a product, about a person, about a situation, are the most important of all.
Over and over again, we chastize ourselves for ‘judging’ people who dress like hoodlums, or look a little rough around the edges, but ultimately, aren’t we just battling our own inner intuition? When we sit down to lunch with our high school friends, and one of them is wearing a beautiful gold watch, we subconsciously attribute positive traits to him, suddenly our minds start turning: “How did he afford that?”, “What did he say he did for a living? Something financial?” We intuitively know everything we need to know about this person in just a few seconds, as long as we ignore everything we think we know, and listen to what our senses are telling us. Yes it’s tricky. It’s tricky because people often lie to us to improve their outward image/appearance. Toss out the company line, read the body, and the truth is right there, staring you in the face.
“Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink (Review)
“How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer (Review)
“The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Shwartz (Review)
“Gut Feelings” by Gerd Gigerenzer (Review)