Book Cover

I was going to try to pick up the pace this week and re-read two chapters, but instead, I am probably recovering from a root canal as you are reading this week’s entry of Re-read Saturday. I shattered a molar just before I began teaching a half-day workshop on value chains, value streams, and process maps, but the show had to go on.  Despite the pain, it was a good class (if you are interested in bringing the workshop to your organization. . . This week we are re-reading Chapter 4 of Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Associative Machine.  This chapter begins a deeper dive into the nuances of system 1 thinking.

In Chapter 4, Kahneman focuses on the fact that our brain creates associations between words, events, and ideas. He uses the words bananas and vomit to illustrate the point that system 1 think can very easily connect two very different ideas and generate a relationship between the two words. I am never going to look at another banana again without thinking about vomit, while in reality, I connect bananas with running. As change agents, if we can create an association between certain words we can channel the conversation away from entrenched positions.

The response of creating connections occurs quickly, automatically, and effortlessly (we talked about cognitive load in Chapter 3). Kahneman describes this activity of system 1 thinking as associatively coherent.  The connections create a pattern that is self-reinforcing, linking cognitive, emotional, and physical responses into a single package. If you are an agilista, just think of the visceral reaction and facial expression you have when someone suggests that you use traditional/waterfall processes.

The ability to associate concepts in such a cohesive package is important because it drives relations and behavior and can be trained. That behavior can be trained (some might say manipulated – think sales) via the priming effect. The priming effect allows your brain to take one idea or physical input and make a jump. Reciprocity (a social rule that states that someone should repay, in kind, what another provided for them) is a form of the priming effect.

Priming effects behavior through system 1, therefore, it occurs underneath conscious thought. Kahneman ends the chapter by noting that much of what system 1 does occurs without our conscious awareness of its activities. The associative machine generates the priming effect which is valuable but also problematic because it is the origin of many of the systemic errors in our intuitions —  in other words, our cognitive biases.

If you do not have a favorite, dog-eared copy of Thinking, Fast and Slow, please buy a copy.  Using the links in this blog entry helps support the blog and its alter-ego, The Software Process and Measurement Cast. Buy a copy on Amazon,  It’s time to get reading!

The previous installments:

Week 1: Logistics and Introduction

Week 2: The Characters Of The Story

Week 3: Attention and Effort