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?!