Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

My hats have been hijacked!

Written by: on February 26, 2024


After reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow I feel like the peddler in Esphyr Slobodkina’s children’s book Caps for Sale.  In this book, a peddler who sells caps is having a day of no sales, he is tired and goes out into the countryside and falls asleep underneath a tree wearing all his caps on his head.  Upon awakening, he discovers that all but one of his caps has been stolen by monkeys in the tree.[1]  I have awakened to realize that my System 1 has stolen all my System 2’s caps.


Kahneman describes System 1 and 2 as follows. “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.  The operations of System 2 are often associated with subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration.”[2]  Kahneman goes on to say that System 2 likes to believe it is the hero, the one in charge of making all important decisions, but we come to discover that System 2 is actually just a supporting actor[3].  So why do I feel that my caps have been stolen by System 1?  In the Social Justice and Advocacy class that I teach, students are taught the five steps to understanding an issue:


  1. Define the Issue
  2. Decide who is affected and how they are affected by the issue.
  3. Decide what the main causes of the issue are
  4. Generate possible solutions to the issue
  5. Review proposed solutions to determine their impact on social justice.[4]


After reading Kahneman’s book, you can probably see how System 1 can influence each of these steps through influences such as priming, heuristic thinking, anchoring and framing[5].  It is Step 5 that concerns me the most.  In step 5, I am to review solutions and try to determine the potential consequences for each, this requires System 2 thinking.  One way to accomplish this, described by Richard Hoefer, is through a concept developed by Edward De Bono called Six Thinking Hats.  This process is done typically in a group setting but can be done individually as well.  Each hat is a different color, and it encourages everyone to focus on the same thinking style at the same time.  The leader wears a blue hat, titled the conductor’s hat.   The leader is the one who ensures everyone stays on task, helps set the rules and the agenda.  This role is assumed by System 2.  The five remaining hats are various thinking styles that the conductor, System 2, leads everyone through.  White hat, rational thinking, the one in which System 2 should excel, looks at data, history regarding the issue, and previous attempts to solve the issue.  Red hat, intuitive style thinking, is System 1’s cup of tea.  This involves evaluating emotions and gut reactions.  Black Hat is what De Bono calls negative style, involves looking at what could go wrong, and what are the inherit weaknesses of the proposed solutions.  Yellow hat, optimistic style thinking, focuses on finding the positives of each proposal.  Finally, the green hat, creative style, calls for participants to reframe the issue and solutions to help participants see things differently.[6]

After reading Kahneman’s book I wonder if System 2 is actually the one wearing the blue hat.  Has System 1 stolen all the hats, while System 2 was sleeping? After waking up to find out that all of System 2’s hats or caps have been stolen by System 1, how much effort is System 2 willing to put into getting at the very least the blue hat back?  Kahneman claims that System 2 is lazy.[7]  Thinking about Freidman’s book The Failure of Nerve, and the 5 characteristics of a chronically anxious system, System 1 is all about reactivity, what comes easy and naturally.  We don’t want to wake up System 2, it’s easier to react, go with the herd, shift blame and look for the quick fix[8].  How do I teach students to go through all five steps of understanding an issue with System 2 fully engaged?  I can educate them about System 1 and System 2 thinking, providing them with examples of the common System 1 thinking pitfalls (priming, anchoring, illusion of understanding, illusion of validity, etc.) and deficits of System 2 thinking (overly reliant on System 1, can miss the obvious when overly focused, etc.).[9]  Even with education, Kahneman concludes his book stating that Humans are not able to consistently avoid the pitfalls of System 1 thinking.[10]  To survive, we need System 1’s reactive thinking and at times we must accept the pitfalls that come with it.

In case you don’t remember the ending to Slobodkina’s book, the peddler gets overly frustrated with the monkeys and in a fit of rage, he throws his remaining cap to the ground; a reaction surely suggested by System 1.  The monkeys who had been mimicking the peddler (shaking fingers, stamping feet) continue to engage in their System 1 reactive thinking and throw their stolen caps to the ground.  The peddler calmly retrieves his caps and goes on his way, oblivious to the System 1 and System 2 thinking processes that filled his day.[11]

[1] Esphyr Slobodkina, Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business (New York, HarperCollins, 1987).

[2] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, (Canada: Anchor Canada, 2013), 20-21.

[3] Kahneman, 31.

[4] Richard Hoefer, Advocacy Practice for Social Justice 4th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 57-73.

[5] Kahneman.

[6] Hoefer, 70-71.

[7] Kahneman, 31.

[8] Edwin Friedman A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York: Church Publishing, 2007).

[9] Kahneman, 23-24,52-58, 119-128, 199-22, 415

[10] Kahneman, 411

[11] Slobodkina.

About the Author

Jeff Styer

Jeff Styer lives in Northeast Ohio's Amish Country. He has degrees in Social Work and Psychology and currently works as a professor of social work at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Jeff is married to his wife, Veronica, 25+ years. Together they have 4 beautiful children (to be honest, Jeff has 4 kids, Veronica says she is raising 5). Jeff loves the outdoors, including biking, hiking, camping, birding, and recently picked up disc golf.

10 responses to “My hats have been hijacked!”

  1. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Hey Jeff, I have never read the book the children’s book Caps for Sale, but it sounds and looks great. Can any parallels be drawn between the cognitive processes described by Kahneman and the challenges faced in decision-making within social justice and advocacy, using “Caps for Sale” as an illustrative metaphor?

    • Jeff Styer says:

      Good question and I will try to not avoid answering your question by answering an easier one. So if I use the monkeys to represent System 1 thinking, I think the challenges faced with the 5 steps to understanding an issue I mentioned above would be that the peddler (System 2 thinking) must always be cautious that the monkeys don’t follow him and attempt to steal the hats back. Kahneman states that System 2 is lazy. So I think it would be easy to allow System 1 thinking to take over (get the caps back). Especially when you are trying to determine who and how people are affected by an issue, the main causes of the issue and solutions. To answer these questions, one must slow down and take time to engage in research, not just engage in heuristic thinking, or believe the illusions (remembering, truth, validity, understanding). But it is so much easier to sit down and nap under the tree again.

  2. Nancy Blackman says:

    Hey Jeff,
    I love how you connected the dots between your Social Justice & Advocacy class and the reading for this week.

    If you were to introduce System 1 + 2 thinking to your students, how do you imagine it would help them navigate not just thinking through social justice & advocacy but their lives in general? And how does all of this line up with your NPO?

    By the way, I love that you started off with such an inviting and interesting story!

    • Jeff Styer says:

      I think we the last two books we have read that the idea is unless it needs to be an emergency response we need to stop being so reactive, slow our thinking and take to time process, not totally abandoning our emotions but not fully relying on them either. If I can communicate that with to my students, I think overall they will make better decisions throughout life. I don’t know them outside the classroom, but I wish I had known these ideas when I was in college and my young adult years.
      My NPO? When you look at the topic of pornography or any habitual behavior that we engage in, System 1 thinking is what allows the behavior to continue. If persons really slowed down to count the cos and see past the illusions System 1 is presenting, they would likely lessen their involvement in the behavior, but we all know that is easier said than done.

  3. Adam Cheney says:

    One thing I have been thinking through is using System 1 thinking well. It is not necessarily bad but simply quick and prone to error. In the social justice world that you are teaching in, when do you think System 1 thinking might be useful?

  4. Jeff Styer says:


    Of one way I can think where System 1 thinking would be useful is when we are going from case advocacy, focusing on advocating for an individual or group, to cause advocacy, where we focus on correcting the injustice for everyone. Some of System 1’s cognitive processes would allow us to make some generalizations and give us some beginning direction, what did we learn from our case advocacy and how do we apply that to cause advocacy.

  5. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Jeff! I loved your post and the sync with advocacy. That was a great connection. Advocacy centers on our predominant belief around a particular cause; how will you engage these systems as you look to advocate through your NPO and the issues you are so passionate about?

  6. Jeff Styer says:

    Great question. I think the important things is to not get caught up in all the emotions involved with advocacy. I need to engage in the slow, System 2 thinking to ensure that I am getting as real of a picture of the issue as I can and not rush to conclusions or decisions. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion that everyone sees the problem as being a problem and wants relief. With my NPO and all issues , I must remember that when advocating for change, that there are those who are content with how things are and don’t want to change. System 1 thinking can be beneficial, for example in helping me to generalize when going from advocatingbat a micro level to a macro level.

  7. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Great title by the way! Thank you for your post, Jeff.
    How does the story of the peddler in “Caps for Sale” relate to the concept of System 1 and System 2 thinking described by Kahneman?

  8. Jeff Styer says:

    I think the peddler in the story engages in System 1 thinking the entire time. The story starts with his entering a village and he walks around yelling “caps for sale”. This is a daily routine that he does without System 2 thinking. System 2 thinking would have been his entering the village and assessing the people to frame a sales pitch that would have appealed to the people. When his caps don’t sell the peddler finds a place to rest and falls asleep. When he wakes up and discovers his caps missing and that the monkeys have them, his whole interaction with them is System 1, reactionary thinking based on what he has previously done when he’s angered. It’s only because the monkeys engage in the same system 1 thinking that he gets his caps back.

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