Book Review – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman


The best business book you can read is not a business book. Instead it is a book about behavioural and decision making psychology. Written by a Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman, the book is called Thinking Fast and Slow.

The fundamental premise of the book has become a staple of many business books and theories of marketing and branding. This is the presence of two Systems of thinking in our minds, System 1 thinking is fast, it is intuitive, based on experience, existing knowledge, and most important, emotional. System 2 thinking is slow, deliberate, controlled, and based on logic. The way they interact determine how we think, assess things, make decisions, and act. We have looked at this theory in two posts previously, this article on the importance of content to appeal to System 1 thinking, and this book review which looks at the theory as it applies to branding and product design.

Thinking Fast and Slow is not for the speed reader. My copy is well over 400 pages of small type, and like a good chocolate cake, it is very dense, and very rich. It’s density does not make it a difficult read however, it is in the clear and well presented detail. It’s richness is in the amount of cognitive discovery and observation that it contains.

The book uses mental games to demonstrate the ways in which each System is engaged when we approach challenges of assessment, for example, determining the value, and the components of cost. Another example is how it demonstrates the concept (and power) of priming. This shows us not just how the human brain tries to solve problems by creating meaning, but how we as marketers can influence that making of meaning in our favour.

In addition to the priming, the book looks at a range of cognitive bias that we employ as a short cut to thinking, that are dealt with by System 1 thinking. Some of these are common and a feature of how we deal with the pace of our environments. Consider the halo effect, confirmation bias, the substation heuristic and the availability heuristic, framing and anchoring effects. There are many many more interesting, challenging, and surprising examples of how the System 1 thinking is guilty of loafing about. Most of these are in play with us barely noticing it in advertising and marketing.

I have painted a pretty negative portrait of System 1 thinking, however this is unwarranted. System 1 is intuition, and intuition is based on a lifetime of learning and association making it pretty accurate in the conclusions it arrives at. It is our job as marketers to get the System 1 thinking of our users to jump to the conclusions that include a positive reaction to our content.

I have often thought of I might catalogue the influences and references in all the business books in my collection to see how they interrelate in topics and authors. To see the main works from which they derive their theories. If I had the time to do this exercise, I would most certainly find that a great many would at some point have referenced Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.

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