Want an omelet? Know how to crack an egg first
“Feeling, they discovered, is a form of thinking.”
This sentence launched a pretty good discussion in my Not Your Typical Book Club last Monday.
Engineers are known and respected for their thinking and their knowledge.
But this sentence exposed a gap.
And opened a door. A door for curiosity.
What does that mean: feeling is a form of thinking?
This concept was introduced to us by a pair of professors at the University of Chicago who were looking at everything from economics to negotiation from a far different angle.
They were economist Amos Tversky and psychologist Daniel Kahneman. By showing that man is a very irrational beast they launched the field of behavioral economics. Through research they have proven that humans all suffer from Cognitive Biases — an unconscious and irrational brain processes that literally distort the way we see and think about the world.
Later Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow codified his research and gave us the knowledge of the two systems of thoughts.
System 1 is our animal mind. It’s fast, instinctive, reactive and emotional.
System 2 is our rational mind. It’s slow, deliberative, logical and considerate.
Out of these two systems, System 1 is far more influential than System 2. In fact, it guides our rational thinking. How? Well, our inchoate beliefs and values, our impressions and feelings about the world are the main sources of the developed and explicit beliefs and choices of System 2.
We react emotionally (System 1) to a question, a comment or a situation. Then that reaction informs and in effect creates the response, the choice or the behavior (System 2) on what we are going to do next.
Let me mention some of the cognitive biases we discussed:
- The Loss Aversion: is the tendency to prefer avoiding losses than to acquiring equivalent gains.
- The Prospect Theory: we value gains and losses differently, placing more weight on perceived gains versus perceived losses.
- The Framing Effect: where people decide on options based on whether the options are presented with positive or negative connotations.
- The Confirmation Bias: the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs.
- The Anchoring Bias: the tendency to be overly influenced by the first piece of information that we hear.
- The Actor-Observer Bias: is the tendency to attribute our actions to external influences (I am late because of the traffic) and other people’s actions to internal ones (she is late because she is irresponsible).
Here is an example. Guess which cognitive bias this is.
What would you choose: to get $900 or take a 90% chance of winning $1000 (and a 10% chance of winning 0)? Most people avoid the risk and take the $900, although the expected outcome is the same in both cases. However, if I asked you to choose between losing $900 and take a 90% chance of losing $1000, most of you would probably prefer the second option (with the 90% chance of losing $1000) and thus engage in the risk-seeking behavior in the hope to avoid the loss.
Is it true that we make logical decisions most of the time? Is it true that we don’t listen to our emotions when is a high-stake situation at work?
Are our behaviors influenced mostly by what we know?
Or what we know is influenced by what we feel?
If we try to conduct a conversation, a project pitch, or a negotiation solely based on System 2 concepts without the tools to read, listen and understand the System 1 emotional underpinnings of what might be going on inside someone’s head and heart, we might find ourselves in some failed, confused and disappointing experiences.
After all, to make an omelet you first need to know how to crack an egg.
In my book club we commit to one small action and/or experiment each week.
One of the small actions was to count how many times we think fast and how many times we think slow during the day.
[The answer is: Loss Aversion Bias.]