Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and slow is a classic read by Daniel Kahneman. At its core, it’s about how our hardwiring often forces us to take auto-pilot responses to things, often without us knowing.


If you’ve been to Tony Wilson’s workshops or keynotes, you’ll hear him say “Humans are hard-wired to be lazy, whenever possible.” It’s a simple way of saying that we tend to do easy things rather than hard things, and not just when we’re decided to go to the gym or stay in bed. We also live this rule almost hourly, based on our past habits and our hardwiring, to do things that we do out of sub-conscious.


Karneman calls this System One and System Two thinking. System One is our auto-pilot - it does the things that we are conditioned to do. It makes us say ‘yes’ to our boss or our colleagues that ask for our help, sometimes without thinking. But System Two is a bit more deliberate. Instead of being reactive and saying ‘yes,’ it might think long and hard about how much we have on our plates already, whether we are going to get home on time, and if we’ve spent enough time with our loved ones this week. It might calculate all these things and say ‘no’ instead.


Key things we gleaned from this book:

1. Open Discussion Doesn’t Work

We can be easily primed to think a certain way. If we are the second person to negotiate a price, our offer will be ‘anchored’ by the price already set (think about house prices and auctions). If someone tells you what they think something is worth, you are likely to offer somewhere in that range. Even if it is a complete unknown.


In many meetings and workshops, we just open a topic up for discussion. This priming phenomenon tells us that people will tend to follow the first person who contributes to the discussion. This is especially true if the person who first engages is a strong personality.


A better way to operate is to ask everyone to write down their first thoughts and then read them back. If you see someone scribbling out their answer….. start asking questions!

2. Emotional Priming Makes Us Happy (or sad)

This is a different type of priming that was really interesting. The researchers asked these questions:

  • How happy are you these days?
  • How many dates did you have last month?

When asked in this order, there was no correlation between the two. But when asked in reverse order, the correlations between number of dates and happiness was high. When the subjects were primed to think about happy times (a date for example) they were reminded of happy times in their general life experience.


We are all trying to keep people engaged and to do this, we need to help people enjoy the work that they do. The regular response to ‘how’s work?’ is usually poor. But maybe if we take time to reflect on our weekly or daily ‘wins’ we can change this.


3. Loss Aversion is Stronger than Chasing Rewards

Contrary to what most people think, we fear loss more than we desire attaining something. And this affects our performance dramatically. Basketball teams are more likely to win close games if they are slightly behind at halftime. Golfers are more likely to sink a putt for par rather than a birdie (ie they are better when trying to avoid a bogey)


This would be a valuable tool for motivating staff. If we can find things that they care about, that they might lose if they don’t slightly up their game, this might be something that boosts performance. Pitting people against each other wouldn’t be a good example of this, but saving a bonus for the team, or saving a number one ranking on customer service would be excellent.


This book is a great reminder of the things that we do without thinking. And not just our ‘bad habits’ but literally things that we never think about. Full Stop. We are programmed a certain way, and books like this tend to make us take a better look at what that programming might be, how we can use it, and how we can avoid it.

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