Book Cover

Read the book!

When I introduced the logistics of the re-read of Thinking Fast and Slow on April 20, 2019, I anticipated that we would complete in 42 weeks. Doing the math, we kicked the re-read off 294 days or 42 weeks. Applause, please!

I now have read this book twice.  It has influenced my practice both times I read it. Thinking Fast and Slow popularized many of the concepts that are now called behavioral economics and introduced me to cognitive biases. Over the years I have done several presentations on the impact of cognitive biases on process improvement, software development, and testing. Kahneman helped me to stop viewing behavior as the outcome of straight forward maximization equations and something that incorporated more human behaviors. Biases deeply influence how we react. 

Kahneman uses System 1 and System 2 thinking to illustrate how decisions are shaped and made. System 1 uses bias and memory tricks to quickly connect the dots while System 2 does more of the heavy-duty rationalization. Everyone should read or re-read this book in order to etch the basic ideas of behavioral economics into how change is approached. The problem is that even though the original publication date was nine years ago, I continually see the same errors. For example, I recently sat through a pitch whose call to action did not address why anyone would risk changing how they work other than a stellar ROI.  

One of the important concepts discussed in the book for change coaches is the idea that What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI). Allan Kelly in SPaMCAST 584 commented about the problems caused when leaders, product owners, and coaches assume they know everything about a topic and stop learning. Many change leaders put up boundaries. For example, boundaries between teams or between those who are agile and those that are not. These cause a powerful bias. The boundaries keep new information out and recycle what is known as canon. Susan Parente presents a monthly column on the Software Process and Measurement Cast humorously titled Not A Scrumdamentalist. The title is an explicit rejection of WYSIATI.  

Thinking Fast and Slow is not an academic tome on behavioral economics. It is a popularization – there have been a number of comments on the blog about the lack of depth in the book. I heartily recommend further reading on the topics for those who need depth. Similarly, a few of the concepts in the book have been superseded. I do not see that as an indictment of the whole book.  For example, Dr. David Gal, in a column in the New York Times (Gray Matter October 6, 2018) challenged all of the behavioral economics stating “Only if we understand why a behavior occurs can we create generalizable knowledge, which is the goal of science”. His argument is that just because we know a bias exists we still do not understand the mechanics of why things work that way. While we work out the mechanics, I believe that understanding the basics of behavioral economics is pretty darn useful on a day to day basis.

Next week we start on our read of Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler. Even though we are reading this book as part of our Re-Read Saturday Feature, this is a new book for me. Order a copy using the link (using the link helps support the blog and podcast). If you do not have a copy or have tossed it at someone during a crucial conversation, it is time to buy a copy and read along.

New to the re-read?  Start at the beginning:
Week 1: Logistics and Introduction