Saturday 19 October 2019

Thinking, Fast and Slow

I have just finished reading Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow. It is a fascinating, and very salutary, read. Like most people, I like to think that I am quite a rational person, at least when thinking seriously about serious issues.  Like most people, I am probably wrong, at least some of the time.  Kahneman details the many ways in which we take short cuts in our thinking. For example, we frequently substitute an easier question to think about than the one that we are facing, and answer that, without realising that we have done so.  His many years of research and engagement with others in the field provides him with a rich store of examples, anecdotes, and serious research findings.

There is much to ponder on here; not least the importance Kahneman recognises in the stories we tell ourselves, which of course resonates with my Shifting Stories work (and I will almost certainly post some reflections to the Shifting Stories blog in due course) . But the first thing I am considering is the challenge this seems to pose to Nancy Kline's hypothesis that sits under her Thinking Environment. Regular readers of this blog, if such there be, and those who work with me in real life, will know that I am a big fan and keen exponent of Kline's work (see various posts about it here).

Me with Nancy Kline on the occasion of my
qualifying as a Time To Think coach
The hypothesis in question, is that when people do their own independent thinking, they are most likely to come up with the best solutions to the problems that they are seeking to address.  Thus the purpose of the Thinking Environment is to help people to do such independent thinking.

But if Kahneman is correct, there is no guarantee that people's thinking processes are sound; nor that they will be able to identify the errors in it, even when asked (pace Kline) what they are assuming.

So where does that leave Kline's model - and my use of it as a coach and facilitator?  Is it delusional, and should I desist?  I think not (but, of course, I am aware that my thinking may be poor here, not least because of another risk Kahneman identifies: theory-induced blindness...).  However, I think that Kline's inclusion of Information as one of the 10 components of the Thinking Environment gives me (and the model) a let-out - and some additional responsibilities.

Nancy Kline has always been clear that if you are listening to someone planning to spend their £400k budget, and you know that the budget is, in fact, £40k, it is an act of intellectual vandalism to allow them to spend an hour telling you their plans without sharing your information.  She is quite careful to emphasise that it should be information, not your opinion etc, so as to stay with the other person's independent thinking and not derail it with your ideas.

However, I think I have always tended to treat that component, information, with too much caution; and that as well as factual data like that, there may be other information that I am aware of that would be helpful, or even essential, for the thinker to know.  And Kahneman's insights fit into that category I think.  Which means that I have an additional responsibility really to learn about the various ways in which people can shortcut good thinking, and how to spot them, so that I am in a position to share that information, when both necessary and appropriate, with my clients.

And given the richness and complexity of Kahneman's work, that is no light undertaking...

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