System 1 and System 2
I recently read (actually listened to in the car) the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In it Kahneman describes two modes of thought. What he calls “System 1” is fast, instinctive and emotional, whereas “System 2” is slower and more logical.
For most of us, driving to a familiar location is a System 1 task. We feel as if we are on autopilot. But if the weather suddenly makes the road treacherous, or of a nearby car drives erratically, we switch to System 2, devoting more attention to the task. One way to establish which System is in use is whether you can carry on a conversation. System 1 tasks can be carried out while talking, but System 2 tasks require more of your focus.
We develop our System 1 as a set of short-cuts. They form over time as we discover patterns in our world. Imagine devoting your full attention to driving to work every day. That takes effort and we naturally conserve effort.
The problem is that System 1 can let us down. With it we are literally acting on “preconceived notions”, a phrase that is freighted with biases, bigotry and ignorance.
Kicking the ball back
As I listened to the book explain these concepts I had a minor epiphany.
When I was a child of about ten years of age I was on a soccer team. In one game I was up the field on the right hand side when a defender kicked me the ball. It was a long kick, well timed and aimed. It gave me a perfect breakaway opportunity.
Instead, I kicked the ball back.
I still wince when I think about that. I remember feeling so stupid. But now I can see that my System 1 had responded as I had been coached. The drills I did were all about kicking the ball back and forth, not what to do when given a breakaway opportunity. So I did what came naturally.
Drill for the breakaway
My takeaway from this is that System 2 is in charge of training System 1, so do some deep thinking about how you want System 1 to behave and drill for that.
Until I heard about Design Thinking my approach to any task was as a project. I still find this my automatic mode, my System 1.
Project management is useful of course, but its focus on minimizing changes makes it of limited value under the uncertain circumstances Design Thinking is appropriate to. Applying System 2 I now take the time to assess whether the situation really offers nothing but known knowns before delving into a project plan.