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

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

Written by: on October 20, 2021

Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, while daunting in size provides an engaging opportunity for the reader to think differently about common notions of psychology, statistics, and intuition. While the work in essence focuses on the psychological factors behind economic behavior, there is much more to glean, especially from a leadership lens. It is evident that his relationship with the late Amon Tversky was profoundly influential in multiple dimensions and their collaboration and challenge of one another fostered a continued exploration of statistical intuition.  Kahneman expounds on how System 1, ‘thinking fast’, and System 2, ‘thinking slow’, work individually and in tandem, influence decision making and human thought. Throughout the book, he ends each chapter with examples of the specific theory or thought he has just described, contextualizing it for his reader. In short form, Kahneman’s emphasis is that intuitive thinking is how humans have been wired, and yet, the intuition is imperfect and is not to be equated with truth.

One topic that Kahenman discussed that I found really fascinating was the role of the pupil in determining mental effort. From the research, they were able to measure the pupil at different points and identify when a subject was focusing intensely, on the brink of giving up on a given problem, or not exerting any effort at all. From a global perspective lens, it reminded me of an example that Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map, has given in her talks about the importance of looking at the eyes when working with international teams. The story in essence is about facilitating a workshop with Japanese professionals, asking if anyone had questions at the conclusion which received no response, and then finding out there were in fact questions left unspoken. Her Japanese counterpart asked if he could try and because he knew the importance of looking for the “bright eyes” in the group, he was easily able to identify and invite specific individuals to ask their question. In debriefing with him how he was able to recognize who had a question, he emphasized that for the Japanese, it is customary to only speak when invited and that the speaker can identify who would like to based on how engaged their eyes are with the speakers. When she tried it during her next session, she found that she was able to properly discern who indeed had bright eyes. While I’m sure they were not measuring pupil diameters like Kahneman and Tversky, it would suggest a similar understanding of the relationship between our mental effort and appearance of our eyes.

From a leadership lens, the value of this work is not only in the increased self-awareness of how my Systems 1 and 2 are playing out in daily scenarios but also how to further recognize those in my colleagues, students, and partners. If I were to have the opportunity to sit with Kahneman and flush out some further questions I have, I would love to know if the theories of statistical intuition and Prospect Theory hold true across all people groups and cultures. I would also enjoy seeing a more concrete idea of the expanded vocabulary surrounding these topics that he advocates for. I wonder how that would be communicated, utilized, and by which professional sectors.

Form a theological lens, I found myself wondering if the degree of luck or chance Kahneman describes as being part of the equation would in fact be the work of the Lord. Additional questions I have are how could we as disciples of Jesus describe the relationship between intuitive thought and discernment? Is intuition imperfect or are we, as fallen and flawed individuals imperfect, and therefore our processing and recognition of intuition is imperfect and not the intuition itself? In light of Kahneman’s work, how would the Romans 12 urging of renewing our minds connect with Systems 1 and 2?

While I thoroughly fell for many of the experiments throughout the book that only proved his thoughts on heuristics and biases, I appreciated the opportunity to experience in the immediate how my brain and thoughts automatically fire towards an imperfect intuition, especially when I know statistically the answer was not correct. Those two lines cannot possibly be the same length, right?!

About the Author

Kayli Hillebrand

Associate Dean of International and Experiential Education

8 responses to “Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me”

  1. Kayli, this is a great post and your summary is refreshingly concise yet thorough. Thank you (praying hands emoji). I wonder, what’s your hunch about how Kahneman’s theory works in non-Western/non-capitalistic cultures?

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      If I were to take a stab at it, I would say it largely operates similarly across cultures and civilizations. I would imagine there are nuances in terms of how information is presented/accessed by certain regions and that honor/shame cultures may have an intrinsic system 1 that defaults to the family collective thought.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Kayli: I like how your essay examines the book’s effect on your theological lens. The role of luck that Kahneman examines can be at times, the “invisible hand” of the Lord. But I feel like I should not presume upon this. There have been many times in my life where I have felt the presence of God’s protection, guidance, and providence because I have eyes of faith to see. Someone who does not have such vision might chalk up these life events as “luck.” Also interesting to me is how Romans 12 and the “renewal of our minds” can effect both system one and two in our thinking processes. Thank you for the thoughtful essay.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Kayli, you raised some great theological questions. What difference do the spiritual gifts of “wisdom,” “discernment,” and “knowledge” make versus intuition as Kahneman defines it? My experience tells me that some people are just very good at making decision, whether they have a lot of information or a little. I wonder how different his book would be if he factored in faith and all its implications.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Hey there Kaylee. Great post. That is an interesting tie regarding the pupils and other cultures. It makes me wonder how much of what was spoken of could be applied cross-culturally as well.

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Kayli, I too found the discussion on pupils fascinating. Eyes indeed can be the window to the soul…and the thinking.
    Your question about Prospect Theory across peoples is intriguing.
    Would you consider using observations of pupils as an evaluation tool when working with students?
    Your question about intuition and discernment is interesting. When I looked up intuition vs discernment there seems to be a clear difference. However when we start applying things Kahneman says with the mystery of God it becomes more obscure. What does your intuition tell you about the difference? 🙂

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I loved that you focused on the possibilities of impact of peoples from different cultures. Leaving open questions for a response in a shame culture like Poland leaves you with a blank stare, much like your description of the Japanese. Cultural differences are important considerations. I do not know if looking for bright eyes in Poland would work. I am not familiar with The Culture Map. I will definitely look into that book. I agree, I would like to know how much of Kahneman’s luck is really the Lord’s fingerprint on a particular situation.

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