Book Review by James Mcleod

Becoming more self-aware in how we make decisions.

This book by Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman,* offers a terrific addition to the coach’s toolkit and is packed full with fascinating insights that will help you in your coaching engagements. It was first published in 2011, so many of you might already be familiar with it.

The premise of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ is that we have two systems that act as agents within our minds, with their individual personalities, abilities and limitations.The human brain
1. System one operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
2. System two allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations.

When we think of ourselves, we identify with system two, the conscious reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. However, as the book demonstrates, we regularly use automatic system one, particularly when “our confidence is determined by the coherence of the story one has constructed rather than by the quality and amount of information that actually supports it.”

The book details the capabilities of both systems and looks at the interactions between them. It shows that by better understanding the two systems, one can make more informed decisions and potentially enjoy richer and more sustainable outcomes more closely aligned to the original intention.

Complex Decision Making
Ideally, complex decisions should be made by system two, but often system two is busy and depleted. Psychological studies have shown that people who are simultaneously challenged by a demanding cognitive task and by a temptation are more likely to yield to the temptation; and there lies the kernel of truth. We cut corners and go for easier options because we can visualize them and we preserve mental energy by taking this option.

The book details many cases of decision-making where the easier understood option that fits known patterns is chosen over the more complex option that on reflection, was more appropriate for the situation. “Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it”.

All complex decisions are a combination of analysis and intuition but finding the balance and making the right call often proves elusive. “People typically ignore base rate information when it clashes with their personal impressions from experience”. And “People can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.”

*Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Penguin Books.

Decison Making
Authentic Leadership

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