Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – #ICBookClub review

April, 2019

Thinking, Fast and Slow was our #ICBookClub book for April 2019. It was published in 2011 and written by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.

This book is all about understanding judgment and decision making, drawing on psychology and considering whether people are ‘good intuitive statisticians’. I voted for this book for our Internal Comms book club as I wanted to understand more about how decisions are made and why we make the choices we do. What I got from the book was much more than that and has made me think about things completely differently.

The premise of Kahneman’s book is about our two ‘systems’. ‘System one’ being our impulsive reactions or ‘auto pilot’ while ‘system two’ is our conscious reasoning self, that requires focus and thinking. Examples of automatic activities from system one include completing the phrase ‘bread and …’, answer 2 + 2, detect hostility in a voice. System two examples include looking for a woman with white hair, telling someone your phone number, counting the number of times ‘a’ appears in some text.

What I found fascinating was how much influence system one unconsciously has on the choices and decisions we make, and how an understanding of this can help with understanding the different methods of communication we can use to encourage people to think, feel and do things differently.

Some of the findings in this book about how easily we are influenced really surprised me. For example, the impact of ‘priming’, where we can be influenced by an idea, such as a word or concept or even just simple gestures, that then unconsciously influences people’s thoughts, feelings and decisions that are made straight after. It was interesting to read about the experiment showing that people who had reviewed words associated with the elderly, such as ‘forgetful’, ‘bald’, ‘grey’, and ‘wrinkle’, walked down the hallway significantly more slowly than those who hadn’t, even though the word ‘old’ was never mentioned.

Other key themes that I highlighted to consider further in regards to how we communicate with our employees more effectively included:
We are pattern seekers. We are “consistently too quick to perceive order and causality in randomness”. Often we follow our intuition and end up thinking of a random event as systematic in order that it fits with our view of the world.
We often pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, leading us to jump to conclusions.
The Anchoring effect – people’s judgements can be influenced by an “obviously uninformative number”
Less is more – adding details to scenarios can make them more persuasive (more people chose “Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement” as more probably that the simpler, less detailed statement “Linda is a bank teller”. Contrary to logic, when you provide richer and more detailed information about something, it makes it more persuasive.
Throughout the book questions are addressed personally to the reader. This is because “you are more likely to learn something by finding surprises in your own behaviour than by hearing surprising facts about people in general.”

Do read the book – it really will change the way you think.
Jane Revell