Thinking, Fast and Slow

Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, Book Reviews

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow required me to be slow and deliberate in my reading. I stopped frequently to mull over what Kahneman had to say and it was worth every bit of energy I expended. Kahneman starts with this “wish:”

“So this is my aim for watercooler conversations: improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice, in others and eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgments and choices often cause.”

I believe that he achieved his goal.

At the end of each chapter, the author summarizes the main points made with a “Speaking of . . . ” section. I found this invaluable for making me think back through what was just read and helped to solidify the lessons, ideas and suggestions.

What I gathered from this excellent book, on a personal level, was that I should be ready, willing and able to question my intuition when an important decision looms in front of me. That is to say, the big significant decisions will be better made if I’m willing to challenge my assumptions, examine my world view and gather competing information before finalizing my decision. We can be blind to the obvious and we are also blind to our blindness.

Kahneman gives us a framework comprising two systems: System 1 is fast, intuitive and automatic. System 2 is controlled, relatively slow and energy consuming. We need to use both systems in their proper contexts. We certainly can’t take the time to process what to do next when we see something unknown careening toward our head. We will instinctively duck and protect ourselves. It would not be prudent to take the time to try to identify what the object is.

On the other hand, it would be prudent to stop and think about our own prejudices and biases when filtering through data on which to base a product development project or marketing campaign rather than to simply go with our “gut feel.” Recognizing that we do have these two systems at work in our brains may allow us to be more effective and to use them more efficiently.

Most humans fail to think statistically. We also fail to allow ourselves to stay focused on the question that was asked. Often we answer an easier question: We substitute that question for the question for which we have no ready answer. And we’d be mistaken to think that little sleight of mind is limited to politicians. We all do that.

Most important to me, when it comes to our failure to think statistically is the issue of predictions. It is a mistake to rush to summary judgments and predictions without challenging ourselves. The trick is to make sure we understand we have blind spots, to seek inputs from others to help us expose those blind spots and to be willing to have our “intuition” challenged.

Every leader would do well to read and understand how the human brain actually works. Kahneman’s book is a good start to gaining insight on our own fallibility as leaders.

Click on the book image to see it at Amazon.