The bookworm chronicle by the CTO & the CMO // Weekly Reading #7 // Daan Depaepe on Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Have you heard of Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences?! He is notable for his work on behavioral finance and hedonic psychology. In his bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow he takes his readers on a tour through the brain and explains how thoughts work: On the one hand fast, intuitive, and emotional; On the other hand slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

QUESTIONS TO DAAN:

Why did you read this book? It’s actually a long story. I’ll try to keep it short. I did an extra Masters degree in college, on economics, and my thesis/dissertation was about ‘behavioral economics’ (which rejects the ‘classic’ economical vision of the fully rational ‘homo economicus’). Behavioral economics is based largely on the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amon Tversky (Kahneman won the Nobel price in economics for this, Tversky didn’t receive the Nobel price, because he had already past away). A few years ago I came across the book ‘The Undoing Project’ by Michael Lewis (whose books I really like reading), a very interesting sort-of biography on Kahneman and Tversky and their work together. In that books Lewis recommends reading ‘Thinking, fast and slow’, so I had no other choice than to put it on my reading list. And I’m happy I read it. The book explains and clarifies very clearly why we think and act in certain ways, and why we makes the (obvious) mistakes in our thinking.

What was your greatest realisation in reading? That our brain, despite how amazing it is, is constantly fooling us. Because of our evolutionary needs, we developed a brain that can come up with answers and solutions lightning fast (if it takes too long to think up you need to run when some pre-historic animal is trying to eat you, you’ll probably won’t survive). But the brain does this by simplifying the world around us and using that limited information to come up with an answer (by using ‘heuristics’ and ‘biases’). Most of the time, this works pretty well, but sometimes the answer we come up with is completely wrong (or at least partially). And the worst thing is, there is not much we can do about it. The only thing we can do, is to be aware of this, and to try to consciously question the answers and choices we came up with. And even then, we might still not be able to realize that we’re making a mistake.

What do you take out of it for your daily work life? That you can’t always trust on your experience or your gut. An interesting anecdote he tells in the book, is when he was working with a group of colleagues on a new educational text book. After 2 years of working on this, he asked everyone in the group how long they still estimated it would take until it would be finished. Everyone comes up with an estimation of about 2 years (Kahneman included). He then asked one of the people in the group who had previously helped write a similar text book, how long it had taken them in that previous project to finish when they were at the same point. He answered it had taken them another 7 years. In the end, it actually took more than 7 years before the text book they were working on was finished, so their estimate was off by more than 5 years! It illustrates that even very experienced people, who had experience with something similar before, were still not able to provide realistic estimates, because their brains completely overestimated their own abilities, and ignored past experience. What I took away from this anecdote, and many other in the book, is that you need to try and base every decision/estimate/idea as much as possible on objective data, and try to avoid using your gut feeling. Try to be data-driven as much as possible, and base your decisions on that objective data and not solely on ‘experience’, because there is a high chance your brain got it wrong.

How do the different parts of your brain relate to work decisions / life decisions? Always keep in mind that you have these two different parts. It is good to question yourself, and take the effort to think it through. It is necessary to make an effort to force the ‘slower’ part of your brain (what Kahneman calls ‘system 2’) to double check what the ‘faster’ part of your brain (what Kahneman calls ‘system 1’) comes up with. This is also why there is value in setting up processes for doing complex tasks. If you have a process, it forces you to slow down and get that ‘slower’ part of your brain to work. And this (usually) out-ways the extra overhead it brings (of course you need to find the right balance for this). For example, when making decisions on how to tackle a new feature in your software, it helps to write things down or make a diagram, and come back to it after little bit of time. It also helps to try and explain what you wrote down to someone else. If you do this, you can sometimes already spot some obvious mistakes, things you forgot or even come up with a better solution. Again, because explaining things to someone else forces the ‘slower’ part of your brain to be put to work. But of course, like everyone, I sometimes fail miserably at this as well. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and you need to live with it. But you should always try and learn from your mistakes, and try to do better next time.

I see you next week for the next weekly read chronicle! And if you have any book suggestions, let me know! I’m sure Noémie and Daan will add it to their list!

Karolin, for the Around Media and Prompto.com team

Every Friday our CMO Noémie Benoit and our CTO Daan Depaepe take turns here presenting their weekly reading and telling us what fascinated them about the book and what they took out of it for the company and their personal career.