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

I think, therefore I am…using System 1 and System 2

Written by: on October 21, 2021

How we think does not occupy one’s thinking. So says psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman. Like the process involved in the air we breathe, our decisions happen naturally, or so we assume. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Kahneman examines the biases of intuition.[1] The author employs principles of behavioral economics to inform numerous examples from research conducted over decades in partnership with Amos Tversky. Kahneman postulates that in decision making, two systems interplay in the human mind, labeled System 1 and System 2. [2] System 1 refers to intuitive, fast-thinking often applied by what we know and what we see. System 1 incorporates “heuristic” input, meaning a rule of thumb or commonly understood bias, easily retrieved from the memory. System 2 denotes a slow, effortful process of thinking that leads to answers not readily attainable by intuition alone. Kahneman offers a better understanding of judgment and decision making and greater awareness of biases that result in errors of judgment. The good news of the research concludes that one’s fast thinking results in sound decisions most of the time. The author intends to inform those moments when vital decisions and results hang in the balance so that fast thinking does not make a poor judgment and choice.


The lessons of Kahneman’s work prove helpful to all charged with making decisions. First, much like Kathryn Schulz in “Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error,” Kahneman alerts leaders to the reality of confirmation bias. One’s heuristics can result in jumping quickly to conclusions, whether right or wrong. He writes that most people identify themselves as possessing an informed, objective view about the issues facing one’s nation. In reality, research demonstrates that people value specific issues in proportion to the media coverage given. Kahneman also explains how priming affects one’s decision-making due to recent exposure to certain stimuli. Simply put, people are not as objective as they believe. Second, when making difficult decisions, multiple factors need consideration, but often, one factor receives most or all of the attention. When presented with complex problems, the slow, deliberate System 2 proves most helpful, but our brains get tired and take shortcuts found in System 1. The potential for poor decisions increases when the effort needed to evaluate multiple factors does not occur, and one reverts to fast thinking and its inherent biases.


As for personal application, Kahneman writes in his conclusion, “There is much to be done to improve decision making. One example out of many is the remarkable absence of systematic training for the essential skill of conducting efficient meetings.”[3] While I wish he spent some time giving more direction or detail about efficient meetings, his point caused reflection to my ministry context. In our recent staff meetings, we sought to evaluate four yearly events meant to take the church off-campus and into the community through various serving roles. Other events could replace the ones currently practiced, but four serves as our maximum number due to the significant investment of resources to each. How do we evaluate the effectiveness of those events? When should one event idea replace one in practice due to a greater expectation of effectiveness? The goal of all the events stands as a personal connection with people we would not ordinarily see at church. We believe that compassion, with no strings attached, can demonstrate faith and begin the journey toward faith for many in a post-Christendom culture. Assessing that belief proves a challenge, as numerous opinions about current effectiveness demonstrate.


While I did not possess the language of fast and slow thinking at the time, both evidenced themselves in recent discussions. Fast thinking resulted in statements like, “I know those four are working, I just know it in my gut,” and “I heard one story of someone getting connected to a small group after the last project.” Slow thinking input sought numerical data to support the current projects versus other options that could replace existing efforts. Slow thinking expressed itself in, “what kind of metrics can we apply to all the events to evaluate them consistently and not randomly?” As I understand Kahneman, our fast thinking will make good decisions most of the time, but sometimes it will not. Rather than surrendering to a short-cut decision, we need to stay engaged to do the more effort-filled work of slow thinking. We decided to enlist our regional leader to help us evaluate and reaching out to a trusted pastor who mentored us in the past.


Beyond the current example, staff meetings can prove more effective when needed decisions get identified and prepared in advance. Looking back on past decisions, too many choices happened quickly without much discussion in advance, leaving out the consideration of multiple factors relating to the issue. I take confidence from Kahneman that one mostly makes good decisions from System 1. If that is true, a room of people committed to a mission will together make mostly good decisions. Kahneman does not offer to correct a wrong but to make a positive element even more effective. We can always do better, and the responsibility to pursue excellence rests with the leader.

[1] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), 4.


[2] Ibid., 13.


[3] Ibid., 418.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

14 responses to “I think, therefore I am…using System 1 and System 2”

  1. Roy, I appreciate your specific example of how Kahneman’s work impacts your staff meetings. I’m curious to know more about how you imagine system 2 thinking could alter community outreach. How might your events and even goals shift?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Michael, thanks for your question. I’m not sure System 2 thinking would change the events themselves but I do believe it would change how we evaluate the events. As I reflected on recent staff meetings, I remembered a lot of statements that began with the words, “I think…” To me, that’s System 1 thinking while adding more and better metrics would help us to better evaluate effectiveness.

  2. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Roy,

    I appreciated your examples and keen question to identify the right markers for evaluation. I always found setting evaluation markers to be the hardest things. In hind sight, I also remember being in a room with few number of people representing the decision of many and many times all we wanted to do was system 1 thinking where we wanted to just finish the meeting and roll out the next actions plans to rest of the staffs. I think many times, we totally missed the core issues and made immature decisions. How do you determine how to know the difference between making a fast and quick decision vs. thinking things through with more time?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Jonathan, thanks for you question. Much like the answer to Michael’s question, I believe we’ve relied too much on evaluation that begins with the phrase, “I think…” If we put some measurements in addition to our personal takes, I believe we would wind up with greater effectiveness. Our staff has more intuitive people than sensory folks, myself included. We can use more balance of our “gut” and what some numbers say.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Great example of realizing you and the staff needed to do the more effortful type of thinking and slow down and be more deliberate. It really does take more concentration and effort, but this book by Kahneman makes the journey seem not as difficult. This book was really valuable; I had heard about it from others over the years and I’m glad it was included on the list theis semester.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thanks Roy. When you were talking about “knowing it your gut,” I too can resonate with that feeling. How quick I am to trust my assumptions. The challenge is, sometimes I have been right, and it really paid off! But boy, sometimes I have been wrong, terribly wrong.

    Looking forward to how you will continue to live this out in your context. Blessings!

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy – When you figure out the mystery of an efficient meeting, please share. I appreciate that you are encouraging thoughtfulness and intentionality in the events you are doing each year. I work alongside many non-profits and churches and have seen the most effective in the community are not necessarily the ones that are ‘doing’ a lot, but that have been intentional and systematic in their approach to meet a legitimate need and serve from a genuine capacity. When I am looking at an event in my work context I always start with asking if we are doing this because this is what we have always done or if it’s still meeting a purpose and how is it tied to our organizational priorities. That has helped us let go with less emotional attachment as things shift from one year to the next.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, thanks for the encouragement to “keep it simple.” Too often, we can just keep adding and adding but that can exhaust our resources to the point that we do nothing well.

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Roy, thank you for sharing the ways Kahneman has illuminated the ways you are reflecting on the decision making process in your context. I would be curious to hear the combined ways Kahneman and Friedman could inform your discernment. Also, in what ways does Kanheman 2-Selves theory impact your understanding of the 2 systems as you apply it to the process of making decisions?
    Thank you once again for your transparency in your self-reflection and conversation with the author!

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Nicole, you ask great questions! My application from Friedman as it relates to Kahneman centers on anxiety/fear and not letting that influence you to cut corners when it comes to decision-making. Honestly, I will need to spend more time with the 2-selves theory to make an informed reply. Safe travels and may God use your presence at the funeral for His purposes!

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Roy, for your summary of Kahneman’s book and for how you are working to apply his insights to your ministry context. That issue of evaluation is so crucial, as you say. I have also wrestled with how best to evaluate programs meant to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ in a tangible manner. How do numbers capture impact?

    One of the insights I’ve gained from my Middle Eastern ministry colleagues is their way of evaluating impact–they ask participants to share how participating in a program has enhanced their human dignity. Honoring the human dignity of another is the key metric of value in their cultural context. That has been very thought provoking for me coming from a context that more often than not bases metrics on numbers of people who come or numbers of people who then begin participating in worship, etc.

    I really appreciate what you have added to my thinking on this important topic–the role that system 2 thinking can play in evaluating programmatic impact. Thank you.

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Elmarie, thanks for sharing how evaluation works in another culture. Here in Utah, 97% of the folks do not have a relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. There is another Jesus here, but that is a vastly different person. We’ve presently concluded that an event that facilitates a next step (another connection) is having impact. The ultimate goal is a relationship with Jesus and our events are understood as steps in that direction. We want to find ways to better measure those steps to see if they are taking place in the way that we think they are.

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Roy, a very competent explanation of Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow. I am particularly interested in hearing more about your four outreach projects. I am also curious about the discussion that transpired and was there any input into alternative sources of finance for the projects that were effective? Who were the stakeholders in those meetings? Were there parishioners? I am a bit nosy because it relates to my NPO. I am very curious.

  9. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, what is your NPO? It sounds like your project will be something we want to see here because it relates to our projects. Our four projects this year: 1) Serve South Ogden – a week long service to work on the homes of people in a community. Some people take vacation to participate; 2) Bible Adventure Camp – a one-day experience for 1st grade – 5th grade; 3) End It/Concert – End It seeks to work against human trafficking and we host a 5K followed by an outdoor concert by our music team; 4) Feed My Starving Children – a one-day meal packing event that sends 250,000 dry meals to hungry children. The last two events have received some funding from individuals but we budget for the event through our annual budget. Parishioners were part of the planning but the ideas mainly came from our Pastoral staff. Any information about those events can be shared if that helps.

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