Thoughts On Thinking Fast And Slow

It’s been a long time since this guy has written a book report but as I comb

It’s been a long time since this guy has written a book report but as I comb through Daniel Kahneman’s best seller, Thinking Fast and Slow, the amount of notes accumulating demand a brain dump.

Is it all useful to my colleagues in the public relations field? No.

Are there some actionable nuggets in there that have completely changed my views on psychology and human perception while also being of great value to a team of professionals that consult and share insight? Yes.

It not every day that you have 5-10 “Ah-ha” moments. Most of us, the ones looking for them at least, are lucky to have one a month. It is easy to see why this book has sold so well despite its heady content.

When I found myself bringing the book up after meetings and trying to explain some of its more useful precepts to colleagues in a way that applied to public relations, the elevator speech failed. So, here goes a personal challenge: a series of blog entries that aim to take bite sized morsels of Thinking Fast and Slow, digest them, and share back something worth my eminent colleague’s time. I should mention that in our deadline-oriented work everyone on the team is in a perpetual time famine. So, with brevity in mind I will seek not to be a time vampire. Here it goes.


Thinking Fast: You get on the phone with your other half and two seconds in you know they are upset about something. Nothing is said about a problem or issue, but from the tone of voice over a poor connection you realize something is wrong. This is your limbic system, the oldest part of the human brain (evolutionarily speaking) and it reacts faster than your conscious. Kahneman illustrates it beautifully in the book by making it a character and calling it System 1. It is the same part of the brain that has you steer away from the accident unfolding in front of you on the highway – before you “realized” it was unfolding. It is fairly easy to see how this would be adaptive, and why those without this system are no longer with us.

Thinking Slow: What is 11 X 24? Most people will need to stop what they are doing and think about a two digit multiplication problem. As Kahneman says, you may vaguely know the answer is greater than 25 and less than 1,000. Seconds tick by as the program for multiplication you learned in elementary school is retrieved, in my case from a very dusty bookshelf, and you may even have to stop doing one of the other multiple tasks we are all doing, all the time, in order to figure this out. This is the slow, clunky workings of the conscious mind, the part of the mind we think is in control. It’s the part of the mind we call us. Kahneman lovingly calls this character System 2. In my case I had to stop and go get a calculator to be sure of my answer after minutes had gone by. Pupils dilate, heart rate increases, and a number of other minute but telling physiological indicators occur while we do something so many of us do so poorly these days: focus. Kahneman goes into great detail describing the years he spent mapping these small indicators and how he managed to separate out the two characters.

As a student of emotional intelligence I have tended to think in terms of rational and emotional thought for the last five or six years. This is a useful paradigm, and I have much to thank Daniel Goleman for from my marriage to my parenting confidence. However, now that I am halfway through Daniel Kahneman’s latest book I now have to revisit the notion of rational and emotional thought: is there such a thing as “irrational” thought? If System 1 is always engaged – always on and looking for danger – isn’t all thought influenced by emotion? Would that not make all thought slightly irrational? This requires deep introspection. Thus, I am making myself a character in this story as well.

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