I first heard of Daniel Kahneman a few years ago while listening to a presentation about the Marines Corps’ Small Unit Decision Making (SUDM) program. One of the pillars of the program is something referred to as meta-cognition, or thinking about thinking. I realized that I had a lot to learn about the science of decision-making so I began reading Thinking Fast and Slow for the first time. Recently, I picked the book up again while doing some research and ended up re-reading most of it. Thinking Fast and Slow has been added to our Recommended Reading List and is absolutely a book that I recommend you add to your personal library. This is a crucial read for those who are looking to be true professionals in their field because of the depth that Kahneman goes to in his research on decision-making.
There are a few reasons why I recommend Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. The first is because of how clearly he explains how our brain processes information, which is described in the first part of the book titled Two Systems. The human brain has two distinct modes of thinking when presented with information, System 1 and System 2. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experiences of agency, choice and concentration. For readers who have either come through one of our Tactical Analysis seminars or have read our articles about how the brain controls behavior, you will see similarities between how Kahenman presents the functions of the two systems and how we have talked about the roles of the limbic system and the pre-frontal cortex. Essentially, you can think of System 1 as having the same roles as the limbic system and System 2 as having the same roles as the pre-frontal cortex. Why are there different classifications for the same brain functions? There are two different ways you can view the processes that occur within the brain and the researchers that have identified these classifications can be divided into two different “camps.”
1. The Neurobiologists: The limbic system and pre-frontal cortex “camp” has divided the roles of information processes using an anatomical division. Researchers who choose this approach are neurobiologists by trade and prefer to assign a function to a specific organ.
2. The Neuropsychologists: In contrast to an anatomical split, the System 1 and 2 “camp” are neuropsychologists who prefer a dual mode of thinking and are reluctant to assign the information processing functions to a specific organ within the brain.
Since I originally learned about the brain’s influence on behavior and decision-making in the framework of the pre-frontal cortex and limbic system, that is how I have always preferred to categorize new information as it seems a little more tangible to me. However, as Nassim Taleb points out in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, we can’t observe brain functioning very well and we have been fooled by its anatomy in the past, so there are some clear benefits to looking at the brain as having two different “systems.” Regardless of which method you prefer when thinking about the brain, the important part is to understand the research on both sides of the issue and create a mental model that you can use to consolidate new information as you continue your learning.
While all of Thinking Fast and Slow is extremely valuable, in case you don’t read the whole book (it is quite long.) the other section that I highly recommend is Part 3, titled Overconfidence. This is not a section you should miss because it talks about the limitations of intuitive decision-making and the situations when you should rely on an algorithm over your instinct. In the security, law enforcement and defense fields, knowing when you can trust your gut and knowing when our inherent biases might be affecting you in a negative way can be the difference between stopping the threat left of bang, or being forced to react right of bang. Part 3 also discusses how to acquire skill and improve intuition, which is good information to have regardless of your profession, making it a must-read section of the book.
In the coming weeks, you will see a number of articles and videos that relate to decision-making, but taking the time to learn about one of the most influential thinkers in the field, Daniel Kahneman, will also be a good use of your time. If you are interested in buying Thinking Fast and Slow, you can find it in Amazon here.
Want to see other books that we have read and recommend? Take a look at our complete reading list for our other suggestions.