Book Report! Thinking, Fast and Slow
Remember that Jump to Conclusions mat from Office Space? You have one living in your brain.
As you may recall getting to know Daniel Kahneman’s work is a recent hobby of mine. A cognitive psychologist, Kahneman and his research partner Amos Tversky were the trail blazers whose ideas about how we think and make decisions has influenced everything from economic theory to negotiation practice.
In his recent book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman summarizes the work he is best known for in accessible prose specifically intended to help those of us who aren’t cognitive scientists understand how we think, why we consider information the way that we do, and what it means for us when we interact with others.
Kahneman’s basic premise is that you have two modes or systems of thinking that work dependently; 1 and 2. System 1 is speedy and efficient, able to assess certain complex characteristics, like size and emotion, without going through the mental gymnastics of following each and every logical step to arrive at a good answer. It jumps to conclusions quickly and with confidence. System 1 filters information for you and tells you what the information is similar to and why it might be true.
That “you” that System 1 is communicating with is System 2, the slow system of thought. System 2 is where we work to figure out complicated math and why someone is angry or happy. It is the the mode of thinking you usually think of when you say “I thought about….” It is slow, thoughtful and logical.
System 1 is extremely efficient and agile but can’t determine the veracity of statements that aren’t obviously false (System 1 likes things to be true). While System 2 is very good at going over details of an event or a problem with a fine tooth comb, it plods along, sticking to the slow, thoughtful consideration it likes best. Additionally, System 2 is limited to a certain extent by the information System 1 feeds it.
And what does this all mean to you, as you try to improve your negotiation skills and make more money?
System 1 can’t do large sums. System 1 relies on a lot of comparisons to run at top speed, and large sums, unless you’re a math wiz, are difficult to determine through comparison; they require time (and System 2) to be accurate.
So don’t give your client a quote with everything added up to one large sum. Show your work!
Help your client’s System 1 understand where the costs come from and what they are related to. If System 1 can check off smaller sums as reasonable for the work they represent, it is more likely to tell System 2 that the whole quote is reasonable.
You like what you like. System 1 knows your preferences extremely well and evaluates new information based on those preferences. Does this match up with something I like? If “yes” then: Score!, if “no” then: It sucks!
System 1 does this in part because when faced with a very difficult question, it will look around for a simpler question to answer instead. “Do I like this guy?” is a lot easier to answer than “Can this guy be elected President?” System 1 substitutes the easier question for the harder question, answers it, and doesn’t let System 2 in on the switcharoo.
Your client’s System 1 and System 2 behave the exact same way. So when you put your arguments in terms that are important to them, it encourages their System 1 to keep listening and, more importantly, to value the information you’re offering. Once it does, it will pass the info on to the client’s System 2 and all of the sudden, the client is thinking of the argument in terms you presented. Not bad.
Other people succeeding does not mean you are failing. Ever have one of those days when it feels like everyone on your Twitter feed or Facebook list is doing ridiculously well? They’re getting job offers and book deals and announcing creative partnerships and getting married and becoming queen for the day? And you’re not. And suddenly it feels like you might never make it.
It’s a random day of good news and not a sign from above that you should quit and become an accountant. Your System 1 is bumming you out by trying to make sense of why all the news is happening today.
System 1 likes patterns because patterns make sense; patterns tell a story of how or why something happened. Randomness just leaves you hanging.
But many times, especially when something happens all at once and there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for it, it’s just random luck. Everyone isn’t succeeding while you fail. Your System 1 is just telling you that because having a story, even a crappy one, is more satisfying than a shrug and “I dunno; because?”
If you notice yourself having a day where it feels like EVERYONE is better than you, give your System 1 a break, turn off the internet and ask your System 2 to get to work on something else. Options include, reading a book, having tea with a friend and, you know, working.
Kahneman’s book is great and I recommend checking it out if for no other reason than the chapter on anchoring. But if you want to one up the nerd factor, reading it to understand how your brain works is pretty cool, too.