Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
I never realized how lazy we all are. Not lazy in the sense of a lack of action. Rather, every study discussed in today´s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, proves that our minds, without us really knowing it, are incredibly adept at taking the easy way out when confronted with decisions.
The data is clear that, for the most part, without even really knowing it, we make irrational, lazy and emotional assumptions constantly. We also ignore inconvenient facts and rely too heavily on other, often unrelated, information when making and justifying decisions. We are also incredibly inconsistent, often varying the rigor in which we make decisions simply based on the time of day or our energy levels that we have at the moment. We give more weight to certain considerations than others simply because of the ease in which we are able to mentally retrieve them. The incredible power but also the corresponding fragility of the human mind is a hell of an interesting topic!
The Decision-Making Process
Thinking Fast and Slow introduces us to the concept of decision-making through, as the book refers to them, System 1 and System 2 of our minds. System 1 is our automatic response system. Is someone attractive? What is my gut response to this situation or stimuli? System 1 in our brains answers these questions for us automatically. It is our lazy response system.
System 2 is our brains´ regulation system. We use System 2 to check the reactionary responses we make through System 1. We activate System 2 in the case of analysis or where deep thought is required.
It is incredible, as Thinking Fast and Slow points out, how reluctant we are to engage System 2. We act so oftenly, and wrongly, based on our guts or our automatic responses to events or make complicated decisions without getting into the deeper analysis that can only be done with System 2.
How We Set Ourselves Up to Make Mistakes
Just a few examples. Do you find yourself doing any of these? I do not know anyone who doesn’t!
We make causal links between sometimes unrelated events and use those links to make a decision. Roulette is a good example. Assume you are betting on reds and blacks. The last five spins of the roulette wheel have resulted in wins for black. It is tough for our brains to remember on that next spin that those previous five black spins have done absolutely nothing to change the odds that the next spin will be red. Our lazy System 1 minds just assume “something has to change right?” “That was too many blacks in a row!”
We also make the mistake referred to as the “science of availability”. Have you ever done this? You assign more credit to one factor in your decision-making process simply because that factor is easier to recall from memory than other pertinent considerations? Have you ever had an argument with a business partner about who is contributing more to the business, for example? We often favor ourselves in this argument over our business partner only because it is easier for us to remember the things that we did versus trying to understand and put value upon the actions and achievement of that business partner. Maybe you don’t even know that you do this, but again the science is clear that our decisions are often strongly influenced by ease of retrieval.
And who has never been irrationally influenced by the media or other stories you hear? The lazy emotional response of System 1 of our brains often guides our response to emotional stories like those we hear on the news. We get tired and do not activate System 2 to ask “Hmmm, is that story I just heard really as dramatic, impactful or statistically significant as the media would have me believe?”
Thinking Fast and Slow will give you more examples of areas of our life where we get lazy as to response and decision-making. The book is a great value-add if, in just one area of your life, it causes you to stop and say “you know, I think I need to think about that just a bit more deeply.”
Practical Tips & Takeaways
The probability that our intuitions are incorrect is so high that we need to take the time to question our immediate intuitive responses. It is incredible how often System 1 deceives us! Slow down and at least ask yourself whether your initial intuitive response is really how you should respond to the event before you.
Avoid Important Decisions when Energy is Low
System 1 is an even worse screener of truth from reality for us as it tires during the day. Ever notice how you make worse eating decisions at night? The timing of when you make critical decisions is important. Avoid making important decisions when you know that you are most likely not going to have the energy to consider all relevant factors. Failing to do so means that the decision you reach has a high probability of being the wrong one because of all the natural mistakes that System 1 makes, as we discussed above.
Remove Subjectivity in Decision-Making
Our best decisions are made when we remove subjectivity. Take hiring for example. When you make an important hiring decision for your business or set up a plan of how to hire well, are you grading all potential candidates on the same rubric and going with the one who best fits the desired characteristics for the position? Or, are interviews done and decisions made based on “who you feel” would be the best person for the position? Remember how simply wrong your gut reaction could be solely because you interviewed someone while you were hungry, tired, upset, distracted or bored at the time. Discipline to criteria is the best way to tame the errors of our System 1.
Do not trust the intuition of anyone. Experts love to predict the future and look back in hindsight to say “yep, called that one.” But “experts” have the same flawed systems that we all have and, science shows, are often even more inept than a layperson at predicting future long-term events in their area of “expertise.”
When can you actually give weight and validity to predictions of these proclaimed experts? Only when you know that 1) the environment in which the prediction is being made is sufficiently regular to be predictable and 2) this person has had the opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice. Learning regularities of cause and effect requires having had quick and concrete feedback. At this point an intuition is likely to be skilled. Long-term forecasts are operating in a zero validity environment because there are simply too many unpredictable events.
Leverage Other People’s Natural Laziness
Once you have read the book and learned the natural patterns towards laziness that we all have, why not leverage those patterns for your benefit in business and elsewhere? People are biased towards what is easy and simple. We all enjoy a sense of cognitive ease – we like more the things that are easiest to understand and process. Make the complex simple and even pretty to look at and people are more likely to understand them easily and respond favorably.
Once people like you, your idea, etc., their laziness makes the second illogical jump to what is known as the halo effect. The halo effect essentially says that if we like one thing our natural tendency is to like other unrelated things presented in conjunction with that thing we like. A more concrete example is, take a politician that you like. If you like their politics, it is scientifically likely that you will also respond favorably to their voice, morals and other characteristics. You WANT to give them the benefit of the doubt subconsciously. Use this to your advantage. If people like you, they will automatically without even realizing it also have a tendency to like your ideas, proposals and suggestions.
So When is it OK Just to Be Lazy?
If something is not really important and the risk of jumping to a conclusion is low, then just rely on System 1. That said, spend a little bit of time with the idea in System 2 just to make sure the risk that your System 2 said is low in fact is. If the opposite is true, and the risk of a wrong decision could be costly, then you need to activate your System 2 simply because of the high odds that your System 1 will be incorrect.
Why this Book is Worth the Investment
I cannot lie. This book is a rigorous read if you want to dive into the details. I tried to listen to the audio version while exercising and doing other things, but it requires more attention than that if you want to maximize its benefits, of which there are many. It explains scientific studies and experiments in detail, and completely grasping their significance requires patience.
But I also think one can gleam a ton of lessons just from sticking with the high-level ideas and concepts of the book. Thinking Fast and Slow, more than anything else, teaches us that we have a natural and biological reaction to think lazily, which can get us into trouble when faced with important or even critical decisions. We have to learn where and when our tendencies towards laziness of thought are likely to occur so that we can avoid the consequences of being so lackadaisical. This book will make you a better thinker!
Get your copy of Thinking Fast and Slow on Amazon and support the site!