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. 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.  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.” 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.
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), 4.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 418.