I had the pleasure recently of meeting malcom gladwell, the well-known New York author of "The Tipping Point" and his latest treatise, "Blink." Gladwell had been invited to speak to a group of insurance and banking executives on the theories contained in his new book; namely, that great decision-makers are not those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of "thin-slicing."Thin-slicing refers to the snap (in the blink of an eye) decisions we make based on the ability to filter-from an overwhelming number of variables-the very few factors that matter to the subject at hand.

Gladwell provided the business crowd with several thin-slicing examples-from an emergency room doctor's instant diagnosis of a patient's heart attack to the immediate impression we make of a job candidate after only a brief encounter.

"Our business culture holds that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible on deliberations," said Gladwell. "But overloading decision makers with information makes it more difficult to proceed. For example, do you really need all the data that your organizations collect? Don't you have a gut sense of where your potential successes and failures will come from?"

Needless to say, the insurance and banking executives in the room began to stir.

"Well," countered one life insurance executive, "we need the data to prove empirically where we need to invest, and then we use that data to prove to our stakeholders that we've invested correctly."

Gladwell smiled, and then explained thin-slicing's essence: It's about making conclusions based on rapid cognition-and an extensive amount of applicable experience to back up those conclusions.

"It's taking a complex problem and reducing it to its simplest elements," said Gladwell. "Because even the most complicated of relationships and problems have an identifiable pattern. In picking up these patterns, less is more."

I turned to the attendee seated behind me, and we simultaneously echoed "standards."

The agreed-upon, identifiable protocols made possible via the ACORD framework of messages, forms and XML standards exemplify the "less is more" theory. For most carriers, producers, brokers and agents, coming together to use this technology enables you to reduce complex computer interactions to their simple elements.

As this industrywide standards-based effort continues, thanks to content contributions from a variety of vendors, carriers and other organizations, you can rely on ACORD standards to help you filter "all that data," deal with the industry's growing complexity and use Gladwell's idea of "thin-slicing" to be truly successful decision-makers.

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