thinking fast and slow review

The art of thinking

A review of Thinking, Fast and Slow

It seems like the perfect book for a COVID-19 lockdown ; Thinking, Fast and Slow. In reality, I finished this book a few months ago and am only now getting to writing up my thoughts on it. Also, is an emphasis on slow. Thinking Fast and Slow has taken me over 3 years to finish.

This is no reflection on the quality of the book, or the relevance of the information inside it. The reality is that I found this a challenging read and being constantly exhausted thanks to the small people in the house meant I got through 2/3 pages before falling asleep.

Reflection and effort

Slow thinking is reasoned and reflective thinking. Fast thinking, is well fast, these are rules and reactions we have already written so the responses are “gut” or systematic. The idea of avoiding your gut reaction at all costs is also covered in length by Dan and Chip Heath in Decisive.

When we are overloaded, cognitively speaking, we are more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language and make superficial judgments. Think we all can agree this isn’t a great way to be.

The takeaway for me?

Try and make important decisions at an optimal time; so not when I’m exhausted and will go for a knee-jerk (or jerk’ish) response.

It seems that we have limited amounts of self-control, so think about how you want to ‘spend’ it each day. Not ideal when you think about the current conditions of home-schooling whilst working at home!

We are over confident

A bat and ball cost €1.10
The bat costs a euro more than the ball
How much does the ball cost?

What was your answer?

If you said 10 cents, you would join over 50% of students at Harvard, MIT and Princeton in getting the wrong answer. The right answer is 5 cents. But our instinct provides us with an easy ‘right’ answer that we don’t bother to check.

It’s been shown, time and time again, that the more confident we are in our ‘expertise’ the more likely we are likely to be inaccurate predictors. This is why chimps can outperform hedge fund managers for stock selections and why other experts make less accurate predictions than novices.

My takeaway?

Check myself before I wreck myself.

Is the advice that I am given thought out? Have I become over confident in my capabilities as an expert? I need to take a minute to think about the real reasoning behind the conclusion and which system generated it.

Priming works

This might already be part of your marketing strategy or you might feel that you are smart enough to avoid priming. But the reality is that most of us are subject to it. The example provided in Thinking, Fast and Slow relates to priming around money. If we have money on the mind we persevere for longer on given tasks but we are also less attentive to other’s needs, we also physically distance ourselves more.

The takeaway from this for me is that focusing on money might help with determination, but it likely has more negative consequences than positive.

The bias to believe and confirm

This is essentially the reason that fake news gets so much traction. When we’ve heard information, and before we’ve corroborated the facts, our brain starts holding the information. And when we are tired, or partially concentrating on something else, we are more likely to be influenced by empty persuasive messages. Another reason that dual screening or browsing late at night generally doesn’t help us make better decisions.

As humans we find information to support what we already know. This is why those in cults, who believe in the end of the world, see ‘doomsday’ come and go, find a way to hold on to their beliefs.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

We knew this already and people will be having conversations all around the country saying they “knew” a pandemic was on the cards and that governments should have been better prepared. Some people really did know this, like Bill Gates, but most of us didn’t really give it, or all the consequences, much thought.

We are biased enough to re-write the past so that it conforms to our version of the future. Once avid meat eaters will forget their sins when they become vegan, finding it hard to believe the values they used to adhere to.

This is why making decisions is so hard. Because we judge on the quality of the outcome, rather than the quality of the decision-making process. This is one of the reasons that I enjoyed the Chip and Dan Heath book, Decisive. It gave many great strategies for consistent and reasoned decision making to stop us being overly distracted by the outcome (amongst other biases).

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If only it was this easy to identify wrong decisions and when we’vet taken a wrong turn

How to hire and avoid your gut

This is one of the most valuable sections of the book for anyone that has recruitment responsibilities. We often hire on ‘gut’ and non surprisingly, our gut decisions aren’t great.

To hire the right person for the job you need to identify 6 key dimensions, then work out the interview questions. Each question should have a 1-5 marking scale. Each dimension should be marked separately to reduce the Halo effect. Instead, hire the person with the best scores. Also, try to resist fudging how you are marking so your favourite comes out top.

Benefits of a premortem

We are often over-confident and over optimistic in our decision making ability. So we need a way to manage these traits. A great suggestion is the pre-mortum. This is how Gary Klein does it, just before a big decision is formally made. He will gather the experts together and deliver a speech:

“Imagine we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disatster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a bief history of that diaster”

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The premortem helps to legitimize doubts and also allows for more imaginative thinking around the possibility of a negative outcome.

Good versus bad

People aren’t good at listening and accepting positive feedback. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that we are conditioned to hold on to the negative more than the positive. Glowing performance reviews can be transformed by the recipient if there are a few constructive points for improvement.

John Gottman, an expert in martial relations, estimates that for a stable relationship the good interactions have to outnumber the bad 5-1. This is why (I believe) gratitude and martial diaries work. It forces the focus on the positive which helps shift the needle on a natural tendency to remember the bad.

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Its unlikely that your partner has left the dishes unwashed to deliberately piss you off and ruin your evening. What unnoticed tasks have been done? Or are they having a tough time?

This is also perhaps links to why we shouldn’t go to bed on an argument. We tend to judge the day based on how we feel at the end of it. Our judgments of experiences are disproportionally weighted towards the end. So, a fantastic two-week holiday where your bag was lost on the way home? Your memory will be tainted. Should that bag disappear at the start of the holiday but then you enjoyed your 2 weeks holiday, you probably will rate the overall experience more highly.

Businesses could learn, and earn better reviews, by carefully considering the end part of the purchase or experience.

Conclusion time

We can’t trust ourselves.

I’ve been slowing coming to this conclusion and this book confirms it. We just naturally aren’t that great at making good decisions, or trusting our gut. Lots of these responses have helped us survive in the past but it can create problems for our modern existence.

There is no doubt about Kahneman’s genius. He is undoubtedly a better thinker than most of us. I was consistently shown in the book that I think fast and that this leads me to make the wrong call. This is an uncomfortably hard lesson to learn.

In terms of enjoying the book however, it just wasn’t for me. It was just too smart and too reasoned. I like a strong narrative, so I dug deep into the stories and the systems that I can employ. I would still recommend this book, if you have the time and the concentration levels. But, if you don’t read it, you will find the ideas peppered in other books such Black Box Thinking and Decisive.


Photo by Sebastian Knoll on Unsplash

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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