Navigating the Unexpected: The Art of Thin Slicing

Anywhere you find yourself leading you will need to make split-second decisions on any given day. However, there is real danger in becoming arrogant or one-track minded in these high-intensity moments. 

Psychologists describe the process of making quick judgments as “thin-slicing.” Malcolm Gladwell puts it this way: “Thin-slicing is the process by which our unconscious minds find patterns in situations based on thin slices of experience.…When we thin-slice, our unconscious picks out the information that is relevant and leaves the rest.” 1  

When it comes to your organization or team, thin-slicing might not produce the perfect decision, but it will lead you to the best decision for the situation at hand. Adopting a flat leadership structure in your organization allows for even more freedom to thin-slice because it gives your team the flexibility to tweak the decision over time. When leaders abandon flat leadership principles in the midst of these stressful situations, they end up trapping themselves in a decision that could result in negative consequences for an extended period of time. 

You must be ready and humble enough to pivot at any moment. If you’re facing something that no one has ever encountered, being inflexible about your decision makes it difficult for people to follow you. No matter what judgment you make, maintaining flat leadership gives others the space and obligation to share a perspective that you might be blind to. At OneHope, I know I have a group of people that are going to speak up and tell me if my decision isn’t working or warn me to keep an eye on it as it progresses. I want to welcome their concerns and encourage them to show me what I’m missing. These are the crucial conversations to have in a normal situation, but they are especially important after a thin-slice decision. 

Though these judgments take seconds to make, the aftermath should go through the proper processes after the crisis has ended. See the impact that your decision had at every level of your organization, use that research to inform what changes are needed, and then create a shared buy-in for the future. 

Thin-slice decisions should be made few and far between, but when they happen, remind yourself not to be a micromanager but to be macro-engaged.


1 Amanda Penn. 2019. “Thin-Slicing: How to Make Smart Decisions, Fast.” August 19, 2019.

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Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope. Since taking leadership of OneHope in 2004, he has continued to advance the vision of God’s Word. Every Child. by partnering with local churches to help reach more than 2 BILLION children and youth worldwide with a contextualized presentation of God’s Word.

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