I’ve spent most of the summer discussing the work of Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his book Thinking Fast and Slow. It’s a great read on how we humans can get off the rails when it comes to judgement and decision making.
In the book, Kahneman introduces the idea of two fictitious characters. System 1 is the automatic intuitive part of us that Thinks Fast. System 2 is the logical part of us that Thinks Slow. System 2 is also the entity we think of when we refer to our "self" - but we’re mostly wrong.
Per Kahneman, most of our thoughts, words, and actions come from System 1. It's on call 24 x 7 figuring out what's going on around us and helping us navigate the waters. And, lucky for us, System 1 is good at what it does. It gets us through our days safe and sound and getting along with people - most of the time.
On the downside, System 1 is also the cause of most of the Wrong Stories I’ve shared with you over the prior nine posts…
Post #73 - System 1 doesn’t account for reversion to the mean.
Post #74 - System 1 screws up a lot when it’s hungry or tired.
Post #75 - System 1 falls for claims that sound intuitively right but haven’t been proven.
Post #76 - System 1 ignores the importance of luck in our personal and business outcomes.
Posts #77 and #78 - System 1 ignores that fact that many “experts” are bullshit artists.
Post #79 - System 1 sucks at assigning accurate probabilities to potential outcomes.
Post #80 - System 1 falls for great stories that are, upon impartial inspection, full of holes.
Post #81 - System 1 falls for happiness and satisfaction surveys that have credibility problems.
That’s a damning list, and there are lots more screw-ups discussed in the book. But it’s not all System 1’s fault. System 2 - logical us - is supposed to step in when a little deeper thought would be helpful. But, unfortunately, System 2 is lazy. It sits on the sidelines unless we force it to engage. So while System 1 is making mistakes, System 2 is often just hanging out. Or worse, it also has a habit of justifying and rationalizing System 1's MISjudgments.
Here’s how Kahneman describes the imperfect relationship between our System 1 and System 2. (Quote from page 417 of Thinking Fast and Slow)
“System 1 ... does not generate a warning signal when it becomes unreliable. Intuitive answers come to mind quickly and confidently…System 2’s only recourse is to slow down and attempt to construct an answer on its own, which it is reluctant to do because it is indolent (i.e. Lazy).”
And here’s how Kahneman suggests we overcome this flawed relationship between System 1 and System 2. Note that I’ve included this 500 word excerpt to give you a taste in case you’re considering reading the book. (Quote from page 417 - 418)
“System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to (mistakes) as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely… And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own.
The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2…Unfortunately, this sensible procedure is least likely to be applied when it is needed most. We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available…The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision. More doubt is the last thing you want when you’re in trouble. The upshot is that it is much easier to identify a minefield when you observe others wandering into it than when you are about to do so. Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors…
Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures. Organizations can institute and enforce the application of useful checklists, as well as more elaborate exercises, such as reference-class forecasting and the premortem. At least in part by providing a distinctive vocabulary, organizations can also encourage a culture in which people watch out for one another as they approach minefields. Whatever else it produces, an organization is a factory that manufactures judgments and decisions. Every factory must have ways to ensure the quality of its products in the initial design, in fabrication, and in final inspections. The corresponding stages in the production of decisions are the framing of the problem that is to be solved, the collection of relevant information leading to a decision, and reflection and review. An organization that seeks to improve its decision product should routinely look for efficiency improvement at each of these stages…
Ultimately, a richer language is essential to the skill of constructive criticism. Much like medicine, the identification of judgment errors is a diagnostic task, which requires a precise vocabulary.
There is a direct link from more precise gossip at the water cooler to better decisions. Decision makers are sometimes better able to imagine the voices of present gossipers and future critics than to hear the hesitant voice of their own doubts. They will make better choices when they trust their critics to be sophisticated and fair, and when they expect their decision to be judged by how it was made, not only by how it turned out.”
That’s a lot to swallow, so here's my one sentence interpretation. Your team must create a vocabulary and a process for confronting intuitive System 1 errors.
And I have some experience in this area, because it has happened - by accident - at our house. Here’s how it works. I’ve written so much about Wrong Stories that my wife and son have internalized the term and its meaning. So when I’m on one of my rants, they don’t hesitate to call me out - “You’re telling yourself a Wrong Story”. And then they share the flaw or blind spot in my story/logic. In Kahneman speak, they’re forcing me to engage System 2 - slow down, see the bigger picture, get logical. And yes, in the moment it pisses me off. My System 1 would much rather continue the rant. But there’s no doubt that the vocabulary and the process of slowing me down are good for me. The more my blindspots are kindly pointed out, the better off I am.
So Kahneman’s point is that this same dynamic should be playing out at your business. You see folks in conflict and making judgment mistakes all the time. Rather than just calling them dumb asses or telling them to knock it off, you need to learn this material, recognize the signals that System 1 is getting in over its head, and help each other engage System 2. That way you can catch this crap early before the Wrong Stories grow roots and mess up your environment.
And to those of you that say “We deliver widgets. It’s not my freaking job to be a psychologist for everyone that works here.” You are correct. And, at the very same time, these other two points are also correct…
1) Great employees have options. If you were them would you choose to work in an environment that tolerates the drama and inefficiency of Wrong Stories? Or would you find a place that aggressively Confronts Wrong Stories and that’s more likely to maximize your growth and connection?
2) If you let System 1 run amok you’ll eventually dislike showing up at your very own business. Getting this stuff right - learning when and how to engage logical, long-term-thinking System 2 - will make your own days better.
So I vote you do the work now and create a more purposeful environment. The alternative is to suffer through whatever randomly develops under your non-watchful eye.
(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)
Wrong Stories. Wrong Stories. Wrong Stories. This whole Kahneman summer series has been about identifying and Confronting the Wrong Stories that knock us off track. That’s the key to making room for Aligned Growth and Connection. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.
THE SUMMER SERIES IS OVER
After all these weeks of talking about Kahneman and his book - Thinking Fast And Slow - it's time to end this series. A question I hope you're asking yourself is whether it would be worth your time to read the book. A couple things to be aware of as you’re deciding. It’s long - 418 pages. And it’s a slow read - unless you have some background in these topics you’re probably going to be re-reading lots of paragraphs - like I had to. If you’re into reading levels, the book scores a grade of 15. For comparison, this blog is written at a 5th grade reading level.
But, there is an easier alternative that I can recommend - a book titled The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. Lewis’s primary focus is the interesting relationship between Kahneman and his research partner Amos Tversky. But he also does a great job of, in a digestible fashion, explaining the results of their research. Give it a whirl if you’d like to ease yourself into the material.
If you'd rather just watch a video of Kahneman explaining some of his ideas, here's an hour long one for you.
And that is all I have to say on Kahneman and Thinking Fast And Slow. I hope you enjoyed the material as much as I have, but now it’s time to move on to some major Map renovation work.
Which we’ll do next time…
***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.