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All Decision Makers Should Read Thinking, Fast & Slow

Very few academic thinkers truly get us to look at things differently. Most academics engage in incremental, in-the-box thinking, that rarely results in a paradigm shift. Once in a while an exception comes along that jumps out of the box completely.

Take Daniel Kahnem and Amos Tversky.

Both have traveled a carefully integrated research path that has gotten many to reevaluate notions of judgment, choice, objective probability, and the fundamental social psychology of decision making. In recent years their work has become well known thanks to books such as Blink, but indeed it is Kahneman and Tversky’s academic work that has truly moved our thinking ahead.

With the publication Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman, on behalf of himself and Tversky, has treated us to a deep, but accessible venue to help us understand the core of their thought.

At its most simple Kahneman and Tverksy’s thesis states people aren’t rational decision makers. They make errors for a whole slew reasons and often make complicated decisions based on gut feelings and pre-established rules of thumb instead of rational logic.

Take this question: Are there more words in the English language that begin with the letter ‘K’ or more words in the English language where ‘K’ appears as the third letter?

Your armchair contestant would probably answer that more words start with the letter ‘K’ since they can easily imagine a long list of words that do so. They likely wouldn’t say that ‘K’ appears more often as the third letter in a word because it’s more challenging to come up with a list of these words from the top of their head.

Yet the initial answer, there are more words with ‘K’ at the beginning of a word, is wrong by a mile.

People usually fall into this trap because of something called the availability heuristic. People are more likely to process and consider information that’s at hand instead of facts and knowledge that is less apparent.

The implications are huge and their work has earned both Kahneman and Tversky a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.

Needless to say, I was excited to read Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which strives to understand what influences our thought and what makes us so hit-or-miss when it comes to decision making.

Carefully Kahneman explains to readers that there are two general types of thought—fast and slow—and that both are prone to biases that limit our rational decision making.

Thinking fast is an unconscious decision based on memories of past actions and emotions. Kahneman states that these gut decisions are right as many times as they are wrong—hence we can’t rely on them with any confidence.

Thinking slow is a conscience, rational, decision that is based on constant fact checking. However, thinking slow easily fails us since it takes a lot of work and we easily get distracted.

While these biases can’t be trained away—Thinking, Fast and Slow can help you recognize them from time to time. It’s a healthy and helpful exercise for anyone who has to make tough decisions on a daily basis.

And Kahneman’s new books will explain why you are more likely to buy more cans of soup when an advertisement below them read, “Limit 12 per customer.”

Fun, engaging, and clear Thinking, Fast and Slow is a must read for anyone who has to make decisions on a professional level day-in and day-out.

Finally, this book is essential reading for all leaders. In a world in which all decisions are made in the context of uncertainty and bounded rationality and where we must choose a presidential candidate that is capable of picking up the phone at three in the morning–leaders, as well as their constituents, must balance fast and slow thinking.

In this context, both as an academic and as a student of leadership, I celebrate the publication of Kahneman’s new volume, Thinking, Fast and Slow.



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