Daniel Kahneman was in London last week and he spoke to 2000 of us.  A humble, unassuming man with some sharp messages.   His book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, has sold over a million copies in the UK.  He received a Nobel Prize for his work on behavioural economics and has got many of us thinking about thinking.

One.  He sees us as having two modes of thinking – the logical, the rational, the reasoned and dispassionate.  This is the slow.  We couldn’t operate in our world if every action we took required this type of thought so we also have the fast.  The instinctive, the passionate, the heuristic.  Both are important and understanding both helps us engage with our world.

Two.  His second key message is that we exaggerate the extent of the rational.  We exaggerate the extent to which we make logical reasoned actions and decisions.  Much more than we tell ourselves is actually driven by the fast, the intuitive and the emotional.  He gave the example of the word Ukraine and how it immediately stimulates a huge number of thoughts.  This is not a considered list; it is an instantaneous awakening of political, social, historical and many other thoughts.

Three.  We are largely unaware of our fast thinking – only it’s outcome.  The extent to which our responses are contextual and our “fast” thinking is using information that we are not aware of.  Most mental activity is automatic and we don’t feel that we are the author of it. These skilled automatic responses work really well.

Four.  We have a strong desire as humans to make sense of what we experience in our world.  We see ourselves as rational players in a complex world.  We force sense on what we see and experience.  We create stories and narratives to help us understand, we avoid ambiguity.  Kahneman’s disturbing challenge to our self-belief about rationality and reasonableness is that we don’t seem to often change our minds.  We often in our own minds build a scaffold of logic on views and opinions that are anything but.  Our fast thinking binds us to some unmovable position whilst kidding ourselves that we are rational.

Five.  Kahneman makes a lovely distinction between memories and experiences.  Our experience is everyday across many dimensions, pleasant and unpleasant yet our memories are selective and become the fabric of our own stories.  Do you go on holiday for the experience or to bank some memories, do you take so many photographs to capture the “memory” and not experience the holiday?

We at OE Cam can help you make better use both fast and slow thinking.  By understanding more about how our brains are working we can consciously develop our rational thinking and create cultures and memories that make instinctive a better way of working.  mark.goodridge@oecam.com

References:

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (2012) Penguin
  • 18 March 2014 – An evening with Daniel Kahneman in Conversation with David Baddiel, Central Hall, Westminster, London (Behavioural Economics Event)