Book Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

April 8, 2014
books decision-making

I finished this book a few weeks ago and have struggled with how to write a review. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is the most epic self-help book I have ever read. It’s also different in the fact that there is no “do this or that to live a better life” type advise, but simply over 400 pages of examples of hour your brain can fail you in so many situations. That lead probably doesn’t inspire you to pick up this thick tome and commit to absorbing the knowledge within, but this is seriously an extremely important piece of work. If you are a knowledge worker and consider solving problems a primary job function, there is no excuse to ignore this book.

Here is a simple example from the book that demonstrates Loss Aversion bias.

You are offered a gamble on the toss of a coin. If the coin shows tails, you lose $100. If the coin shows heads, you win $150. Is this gamble attractive? Would you accept it?

The uniting story throughout the book is the description of human thinking into two systems. System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, more logical, and also inherently lazy. When you start to understand the behavior of these two systems, you see how this explanation of thought is the foundation of all other self-help systems. System 1 tends to make poor decisions and it provided feedback in almost all situations, even when consciously engaging System 2 and that is the source of decision-making biases.

I received this book and The Checklist Manifesto as birthday gifts and I’m sure it was random chance I received them together, but the subject matter of each are very complimentary. Kahneman actually mentions The Checklist Manifesto. It’s quite clear that checklists function as a way to compensate for the weakness of both System 1 (intuitive and emotional) and System 2 (slow and lazy). And, because the emotional System 1 is always influencing System 2, you can see why smart, experienced professionals make decisions they feel are well thought out, but are in fact biased.

I also found overlapping themes with Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Extroverts tend to be described by the same adjectives as System 1 and Introverts are often described by the System 2 adjectives. Understanding these thought systems will likely help you communicate and work with your coworkers and friends. I read Quiet several months ago and you can consider this a recommendation for that book as well.

Go read Thinking, Fast and Slow and next time you are in a meeting take note of decisions being made based on System 1 and System 2 thinking.

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