Being Marge: Review of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, is for you if you want to understand that you might want to heed red flags from your logical brain when you’re over relying on your intuition to make decisions and plans.

If you chose to delude yourself by accepting extreme predictions, however, you will do well to remain aware of your self-indulgence…Perhaps the most valuable contribution of the corrective procedures I propose is that they will require you to think about how much you know.” From Thinking Fast and Slow

I borrowed this book from my older son’s library, thinking it was going to be an exciting read along the lines of Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. While the book captured my interest and kept it for the first quarter of its pages, I found it a tedious read from that point to the end.

I do have great respect for the author, Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. I wasn’t able to connect with my Economics professor in college, so maybe there is a carryover here. I did finish the book, but not without flashbacks of forcing myself to read college Economics textbooks. I commend the author for writing a sophisticated best-seller, although his writing style is very impersonal.

System 1 and System 2

Kahneman does a great job setting up the book’s two main characters in the beginning of the book. Unfortunately, they aren’t utilized effectively throughout the book to provide a common thread for understanding the numerous psychological concepts explored through various academic studies.

The two main characters are System 1, or your subconscious or intuitive mind, and System 2, your conscious or logical mind.

What you’ll learn by following the often surprising results of the author’s and his colleagues' experiments, is that humans have measurable and predictable tendencies to use the two systems of their minds together in certain ways under similar circumstances.

It’s helpful to understand the predictable patterns so that when you are in such circumstances, you can be more aware of how people's Systems 1 and Systems 2 will most likely work together with results that might or might not be to your advantage. Or, as stated by the author: “The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuition is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision.”


The book describes experiments that were designed to test the integration of subjects' Systems 1 and Systems 2, to help the reader understand how to extrapolate the author’s findings to common real-life scenarios.

For example, rather than conducting open-ended interviews where the interviewer relies on their overall gut feeling about a job candidate, a more effective approach is to identify the top six traits needed for a high performer in the open job, create specific questions to elicit a candidate’s rating on each trait, score each candidate on each trait, and then hire the candidate with the highest score rather than a subjective impression.

Conversely, as a job candidate, if you study the interaction of System 1 and System 2 and the "anchoring effect", you might be able to negotiate a higher starting salary than you thought possible.

There are other interesting studies in the book related to jury awards, fund management, and how we tend to evaluate the quality of our own lives and the lives of others. Hint: Life stories trump concern for people’s feelings.

Personal Takeaway

While the book was promising in the beginning, I felt like the author forgot about his readers. I often found myself asking the question, “Where is this book going?” It read like a textbook - very impersonal. 

However, I’m glad I persevered because overall Thinking, Fast and Slow, convinced me that I need to pay attention to those red flags that I often have a tendency to ignore when I’m relying too much on my intuition, or System 1. And I will definitely be even more conservative with my business projections going forward, slow down, and let my System 2 do more of the calculations.

For more insights on the author, Daniel Kahneman, check out this article.


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