Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

22 Sep 2020 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

This fascinating book offers new insights into our common biases, how we ignore pertinent information, without even realizing it, where overconfidence comes from, and how to overcome flawed intuitive assumptions.

Throughout the 400 or so pages of Thinking fast and slow, Daniel Kahneman shows us how much more goes on behind our eyes than we realize. We also learn strategies to avoid making big mistakes in both our work and personal lives. The lessons taught in his book will significantly affect how you think and lead you to question more and intuit with more accuracy. Based on over four decades of study and research into biases, the psychology of judgment, decision-making, and behavioral economics, Kahneman sheds light on how we come to conclusions throughout our life and what prompts the intuitions we use for decision making. He reveals that we need first to understand our minds' workings to make better decisions and understand the impact of our biases. In doing so, decision-makers will be able to make better choices as we, their critics, will judge them more fairly on how they come to these conclusions rather than just the outcomes of them.

Two inter-dependent personalities in a single mind

At the beginning of his book, Kahneman introduces two aspects of our minds – System 1 and System 2 – and invites us to think of these as different personalities embodied within us. Neither system is embodied in a particular area of the brain. Each system functions using a variety of locations throughout our grey matter.

System 1 is our automatic, fast, and unconscious thought. It cannot be turned off; it does not need a conscious direction to function. System 1 creates our impressions, intuitions, and supplies System 2 with information to aid its conscious decisions. The instigator of biases, System 1 is also responsible for several functions that get us safely through our day.

Detecting one object is further away than another, orienting us to the source of sounds, completing simple, common phrases, automatic expressions of disgust at horrible images, detecting hostility in voices, answers to simple equations, reading words on a large billboard, and recognizing stereotypical resemblances are all functions attributed to System 1.

System 2 is how we think of as 'me.' To function, it requires our attention, and it is disrupted when our focus is drawn elsewhere. While System 2 can discern information and figure out answers to difficult questions, it's often lazy and defers to System 1 if it can.

Examples of System 2's work include bracing for a starter's gun in a race, focusing on a singular voice in a crowded room, looking for a specific person in a crowded space, and monitoring behavior in social situations. System 2 completes tax forms, checks the validity of complex arguments, and can also change System 1 works by programming ordinarily automatic functions of attention and memory.

Intensely focusing activates System 2 and can effectively make us temporarily blind or deaf to stimuli that would typically attract our attention. An excellent, amusing experiment – the Invisible Gorilla Movie – was able to prove this. A short clip of people dressed in two different colors passed a ball between them. Viewers were asked to count how many times people wearing a particular color received or passed the ball. Participants who managed the task completely missed seeing the person dressed in a gorilla suit walk into the shot, beat their chest several times, and exit the scene.

System 2 doesn't manage multiple distinct choices or inputs at once very well. However, it can hold conflicting ideas and information in focus simultaneously, and it enables us to follow rules.

While System 1 might be imperfect for making decisions and influencing behavior – particularly for suiting social situations, we couldn't do without it. System 1 is as necessary as System 2 we think of as being who we are.

Finding a happy balance

Rely too much on System 1, and you are more likely to make mistakes. Ask too much of System 2, and you may have to stop everything else you are doing to allow it to function. In cases of effortful forms of thinking – using System 2 but putting time pressure on it for an answer – energy from other functions may be redirected to System 2, leaving you without the energy to see or hear someone speaking to you.

Both self-control and deliberate thought seem to draw on the same limited budget of effort and energy. What's more, System 1 has more influence over behavior when System 2 is busy, and it has a sweet tooth, too, demanding glucose to keep System 2 working. Intuition is also generated by System 1.

Fortunately, cognitive thought is not always arduous. Without exerting willpower, people can spend long periods expending considerable effort. It's known as a flow state and was studied and identified by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

Another feature of exerting effort is the building of skill. As skill is developed, less energy is needed, and new skills are added, at least in part, to System 1's repertoire. Our lazy System 2 is more than happy to delegate to System 1, where it can.

There is a link between cognitive control and intelligence: training attention improves our executive control. Non-verbal tests of intelligence also improve. System 1 is impulsive and intuitive. System 2 is capable of reasoning, cautious, and for some people, lazy.

Finding a balance between System 1's work and the deployment of System 2 is one of the keys to thinking and reasoning well. Recognizing when we need to defer System 1's judgments and assumptions can help us make better decisions by slowing down a little and employing System 2.

Activating System 2

We are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in our behavior than hearing surprising facts about people in general. Our own experience teaches us best and understanding how our minds work using the System 1/System 2 idea, we can become more conscious of our behavior. Knowing that we like to make causal stories to explain events, people, and actions we see, a System 1 process won't stop us from doing it. But it can help us pause and think again using the more remarkable abilities of System 2. Understanding that many of our biases are generated by System 1 won't stop us from making them. Many of them are helpful in daily life – people who act friendly often are. People who are shouting are likely to be angry and thus worth avoiding.

Understanding our different thought processes, how they are generated, and where they are likely to come from, at least allows us to spot them, pause and choose a different course of thought and action.

The attentive System 2 is who we think we are. In reality, we are both, in many cases, more System 1 than 2. Our thoughts and behaviors are often guided by System 1, and generally, this works well. When we use attention and practice to develop skill, we add another arrow to System 1's quiver. The intuitive judgments and lightening choices that come to mind will mostly be accurate thanks to the adaptability and growth of System 1.

That said, System 1 is still prone to some outstanding errors of judgment and assumptions. These massive mistakes are often to do with not recognizing that information is incomplete, of low quality, or even that we are answering a more straightforward associated question than the one posed. The only way to avoid these errors is to understand that navigating through life can be a cognitive minefield. Slowing down and pushing System 2 to action is the only way we can hope to dodge the innate errors System 1.

The very nature of the slow-moving establishments and policy-making organizations makes them better at decision-making than individuals. They naturally think more slowly, with more heads and energy resources than a single person. They have the power and facilities to implement checklists and orderly procedures. If we can learn to slow our thinking and recognize when System 1 may not be up to the task, not only will we enhance our own lives and decisions, the businesses we work within will also become more robust.


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The Talent Transformation Guild provides resources for professionals that are preparing for upskilling being triggered by 4th industrial revolution and accelerated by Covid-19. Members include c-level executives, human resource professionals, consultants, and coaches. As a member-driven organization it promotes best practices via webcasts, webinars, podcasts, articles, white papers, research and conversations to improve and make the best of the talents of individuals for the benefit of themselves and the organisations they work for.

The Guild enable stimulating and meaningful discussions to help professionals prepare for talent transformations at individual, team and organizational levels. The Guild supports the Talent Transformation Pyramid, an open source model, designed specifically to recognize the widest possible range of talent influencers and skills. To date many decision-makers are caught in traditional, linear thinking and immediate concerns to consider this. The Talent Transformation Pyramid enables you to address the challenge by promoting more strategic thinking with a focus on an organization’s readiness to perform.

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According to the World Economic Forum, new and emerging technologies are affecting our lives in ways that indicate we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. This new era will build and extend the impact of digitization in new and unimaginable ways. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving new capabilities for people and machines. This will see new ways for technology to become embedded within societies and even our bodies.

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Eric Shepherd an accomplished leader of international businesses and associations focused on talent, assessments, and success. Eric recently stepped away from a CEO role where he worked to build a SaaS company into a multi-million-dollar international assessment software business. Eric has also led industry and standards initiatives to promote best practices for assessments, learning, and interoperability. He currently serves as Chair of the IEEE P1484.20.2 working group developing Recommended Practice for Defining Competencies. Eric has previously served on Boards and working groups for:

  • HR Open Standards that defines interoperability standards for HR technology.
  • Association of Test Publishers and the European Association of Test Publishers that represents providers of tests and assessment tools.
  • The IEEE P1484.20.1 Standard for Learning Technology—Data Model for Reusable Competency Definitions working group.
  • IMS which defines interoperability standards for educational technology. 

Eric was instrumental in developing the IMS QTI interoperability standard and assisted with the US Department of Defense Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative to define the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC) to define launch and track standards for Learning Management Systems.

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