Thinking Fast and Slow and Scratching My Head

Thinking Fast and Slow and Scratching My Head

January 31, 2012

Thinking Fast and Slow Can Hurt

I can spend hours at a bookstore and not even notice the time go by. I can stay awake through the night, not because of insomnia, but because of the fact that I can’t put a book down. Needless to say, I’m an avid reader. But when I started to dive into Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, my head ached in ways I didn’t know it could. I needed to put the book down. In fact, I wanted to. I had decided Kahneman’s book was not the right fit for me.

The next day, I was in a cab after work and lo and behold, Kahneman was on the radio. A few days later, the woman next to me on the train was reading the book. Weeks later, I turned on the T.V. and there he was again – talking about his book. This Nobel laureate was everywhere. I couldn’t get away from him. It was as if Kahneman himself were telling me to go back and try again.

Crossed Mental Wires

So I tried again. I picked up Thinking Fast and Slow and made a second attempt. Weeks later, I finished the book and have since told friends and family to get on the Kahneman bandwagon. It’s a must read. Using years of research and an entire career of study, Kahneman acts as a tour guide as he gives us a close up view of our own brains and maps out how we arrive at our decisions. As much as we’d like to believe our own mental wiring is perfect, Kahneman points out where it gets a little faulty.

Take Linda for example. Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations. Is it more probable that Linda is a bank teller or that she is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement?

Did you believe it was more probable that Linda was a bank teller and active in the feminist movement? If you did, you’re not alone. In fact, 85% of doctoral students at Stanford Graduate School of Business believed that was the correct answer. If you’re with me and most of those students, we’ve all fallen for a trap, or as Kahneman would say, we’ve “violated an elementary logical rule.” We assumed that specific conditions were more probable than a single, general one.

System 1 and System 2

The good news is that you can blame it on our wiring. Kahneman explains why our mind reasons this way by introducing two systems: System 1 and System 2. System 2 is our thinking mind. It slowly evaluates and reasons. System 1, on the other hand, is responsible for our automatic and effortless responses. It is a gallery of patterns and associations we’ve gathered. For example, System 1 easily adds single digits and forms instant judgments about the environment we are in and the people we meet.

The imperfection with System 1 stems from the fact that it doesn’t rely on relevant data. System 1 does not think things through as carefully as one might hope and instead, leads us to rattle off automatic responses before we even realize it. Perhaps, if we had slowed down a bit and relied more on System 2, we would have all known that Linda was more likely to be a bank teller than a bank teller and active feminist.

Hope You Can Do Better?

This book might leave you hoping that one day we’ll all slow down a bit and ask for reinforcement from System 2. However, even Kahneman is skeptical about our ability to change. He admits, “I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than I have of my own.”

Thinking Fast and Slow, especially Kahneman’s statement above, really got me thinking about the work we do here at Brandtrust®. Like Kahneman, we know that human beings are irrational creatures who don’t always think through what we’re thinking through. Who has time to consult with System 2 before every decision they make? Because we know this, our methodologies break the barriers of rational thought and enter the land of irrationality. We dig into people’s minds and find this hidden place to really understand what’s driving them.

Give Thinking Fast and Slow a chance. It might drive you crazy or bore you completely but it could also very well get you hooked and have you losing sleep. One thing I know for sure is that it will change the way you think about how you think. And that’s Kahneman’s biggest achievement.

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