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

Cockroaches and Cherries

Written by: on October 21, 2021

Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, dives deep into the science of how humans make decisions. In this in-depth and witty book, the author provides a two-system approach to categorize how decisions are made. “System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effect and no sense of voluntary control,” whereas “System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.”[1] More or less, System 1 is automatic and intuitive based (i.e., fast thinking) while System 2 is calculative and methodical (i.e., slow thinking). In the ideal setting, it is assumed that these systems work together and in unity. However, as demonstrated by Kahneman’s countless case studies, oftentimes these systems can be at odds with one another, leading to inaccurate conclusions based on false assumptions and understandings.

As a demonstration of this, the author refers to the acronym WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is. WYSIATI explains how irrational humans can be when making decisions and how little it matters to us. He states,

“At work here is that powerful WYSIATI rule. You cannot help dealing with the limited information you have as if it were all there is to know. You build the best possible story from the information available to you, and if it is a good story, you believe it. Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”[2]

If true, this is a terrifying statement on many levels as it demonstrates the tendency of humankind to settle for less than the complete picture. In evaluating my own tendencies, I would have to agree that I have certainly fallen prey to this complacency and laziness from time to time, content with what little information I have already gathered. This is undeniably alluring when what information I believe to be true is beneficial to support my ultimate cause, belief, or action. Considering the massive political divide our country has faced these past five years, I am curious to know, to what degree has WYSIATI furthered our misunderstanding, fear, and hatred of one another? I believe that WYSIATI has undoubtedly fueled this distrust and siloing of people and affiliations.

An additional consideration of Kahneman’s observation of WYSIATI is the sheer power of influence and assumption, much of which is often based on misinformation or too little information. In what ways does this impact our leadership? I believe there are at least two pitfalls in this way of decision making. First, as leaders, we must give a thoughtful and thorough examination of the information we have come to believe as truth or fact. If we make decisions based on what we know, but the information is wrong and incomplete, we will unlikely make the best decision to benefit those we lead and serve. Two, knowing that as leaders, we are not immune from adopting false information, in what ways are we accurately communicating information to those we lead and our stakeholders? Some might call this “influencing,” but when done such that we seek the best interest of ourselves and not those we are called to lead, it is not influencing but manipulation. And if we genuinely believe that we are merely serving the Lord and Kingdom purposes, do we really need to manipulate others to ensure His end purpose? I believe not!

While many other principles could have been touched upon, Thinking Fast and Slow has spurned a reflective evaluation of my understanding and practice of leadership. However, to emphasize the dry, yet powerful intellect of Kahneman’s writing, I would be amiss if I didn’t include one of my favorite illustrations regarding the impact of bad decisions: “…a single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches. As he [Paul Rozin] points out, the negative trumps the positive in many ways, and loss aversion is one of many manifestations of a broad negativity dominance.”[3] As leaders, we will make mistakes. So, let’s learn from those as best as we can to limit any cockroaches tainting the bowl of cherries!

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 1st pbk. ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 20–21.

[2] Ibid., 201.

[3] Ibid., 302.

About the Author


Eric Basye

Disciple, husband, and father, committed to seeking shalom.

7 responses to “Cockroaches and Cherries”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    I am delighted you focused on influencing. I was drawn to it in the reading.

    There are some fantastic positives there when you know where you need to lead people and how to prepare them to get there. Influencing is leaving bread crumbs along the way.

    The challenge is how to keep ourselves in check or surly for ourselves with others to ensure we don’t just turn it into propagandist mind control.

  2. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for your post and I was challenged by your leadership questions and cockroach illustration. That would be one of my greatest fear, making bad decisions one after the other~ bad decisions make a mess and no one wants to clean up after the mess. What helps you in seeing more and seeing the right things as you lead in your ministry?

    • mm Eric Basye says:

      Great question! I would say doing my best to learn from the mistakes! Seriously, as much as I hate them, they can be great teaching tools. And then, don’t become timid, but continue to lead, knowing that you are bound to make some mistakes.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    The insight about a cockroach and a cherry is so true; this book had many truisms to offer. We can be right in our thinking 99% of the time, but we have to guard against the 1% mistakes we all make. Because we all make mistakes at times, if reminds me of why we need to surround ourselves with competent and trustworthy team members in our work. They help us see our mistakes and they strengthen our thinking processes. There are so many applications this book has to offer; that’s just one of a thousand someone gain gain from.

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Eric, your first question about leadership, regarding a thoughtful and thorough examination of the information, made me wonder if Kahneman would direct that kind of question toward those who test “intuitive” on personality tests more than he would to those who test “sensory.” In other words, do intuitive people make better intuitive questions or worse decisions? Our staff has more intuitive people and I wonder how that impacts the decisions we make together. From what I gathered, we are better served by balancing our intuition with data and multiple inputs before making a decision. Thanks for you penetrating questions to leaders!

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Eric – I could not agree more with your thoughts on WYSIATI and how it has influenced the divides in our country and world on any given topic. It is so hard to watch when someone finds support of their ideology or perspective and completely shuts anything else down, which then limits conversation. I often go back to MAVEN, an organization focused on teaching and equipping youth and college students to pursue truth. A staple of the training emphasizes the use of questions — as a means to get to know someone and as a means of evangelism in the way of helping people question whatever faith they align with. No manipulation or mind tricks, just plain questions. It’s been amazing to see the outcomes over the years.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Eric, I am glad someone else found Kahneman humorous! I wrote ‘LOL” in the margins a number of times.
    I hear your passion around WYSIATI! It should be on our radars as leaders. Alongside this is an awareness of the biases we evaluate WYSIATI. I think Friedmans charge of being self-differentiated and all that comes along with that can help process the way we lead in the midst of the possibility of making mistakes. In order to “cross equators” we need to be comfortable with lack of safety, unknown, and openness to know that mistakes helps us discover new “land”.
    How do you see loss aversion playing into low threshold of pain?

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