The Art of Thin-Slicing Information


Without knowing it, Gen Zs are masters at the art of “thin-slicing”, Malcolm Gladwell’s term for the ability to clear through information clutter and make wise decisions quickly, intuitively and unconsciously.

These “Digital Natives” interface with information across multiple media all day long. Their fingers – and brains – are eagerly exposed to magnitudes of information across a wide range of topics: from shootings to prom to war to college apps.

For example, their Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with terrifying details about the 13 horrific school shootings that occurred during the first 6 weeks of 2014. Yet they continue to get on that school bus every day without fear. Limited on time and brainpower, Gen Zs scan and respond repeatedly, without hesitation or emotion. No time to linger, no energy to analyze. How do they do it? They “thin slice” information…

6a00d8341cbf9a53ef011570404b9a970b-800wiGen Zs are able to “thin slice”, which according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink, is defined as: to make snap judgments or reach conclusions based on very thin slices of experience. It’s the power of thinking without thinking, yet making the best decisions instantaneously and often unconsciously. Published in 2005, Gladwell forecasts an age of information overload and he finds that experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis.

All that Gen Z knows is information overload. Screens give Gen Zs connection and awareness – vulnerability or ignorance can be seen as a sign of weakness. According to Gladwell – – “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.”

timenewcoke-copyGladwell cites the Pepsi vs Coke blind taste test as an obvious example of thin-slicing brands. In the Pepsi Challenge, consumers tasted colas blind, not knowing the brand and all that it stands for. Results favored Pepsi over Coke hands down, and this was the genesis to New Coke, which was not successful. Consumers thin-sliced what they tasted: their vote was based solely on the cola, with all the other brand information cleared aside.

According to Gladwell – “The entire principle of a blind taste test was ridiculous. They shouldn’t have cared so much that they were losing blind taste tests with old Coke, and we shouldn’t at all be surprised that Pepsi’s dominance in blind taste tests never translated to much in the real world. Why not? Because in the real world, no one ever drinks Coca-Cola blind.”

What does Thin-Slicing mean for Brands?

As Gladwell indicates, a “thin-slicer” can smell a fake, but they can also smell genuine passion. Gen Zs are able to thin slice ads and brands just like they thin-slice all the other information that pops up on their screens, information that is begging for a reaction. To reach skeptical Gen Zs, brands need to be transparent with communication that “gets to the point”:  offer a few words, authenticity, and no sneaky behavior. It’s no wonder that Nike remains the top clothing brand among teens. The slogan “Just Do It” is sliced very thin.


Gen Zs have already mastered the art of thin-slicing information so they can make wise decisions quickly, recover and move on. Gen X and Gen Y are still trying to figure out how to do it. Thin slicing lets you make clear decisions among deludes of information. Doesn’t that sound heavenly? Again, we can learn a lot from Gen Z…if only they’d take the time to teach us!


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