Sunday, April 15, 2018


I'm working on the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics. As you might guess, the book is about how the brain works, based on years of research. He talks about the mind as two systems, the first being fast and intuitive and the second being more deliberate.

One of the ideas he discussing is that of Priming. Priming happens when something such as a set of words impact our thought and actions. He gave a great example of an experiment with two sets of participants. One set was given a set of words associated with being old (gray, wrinkle, Florida) and another group had words not associate with being old. They were asked to create sentences with the words. They were then asked to walk down the hall for the next experiment. The group with the "old" words walked down the hall much slower than the other group...these were all college students so it had nothing to do with their actual age. One group was primed; they had the idea of old planted in their minds and they acted differently because of it without knowing it.

In another experiment, people were asked to put money into an "honesty box" based on how much coffee or tea they drank. There were different posters placed on the wall above the money box. On weeks when the posters had eyes looking down, people paid more money than on weeks when the posters were of flowers.

Think of how easily priming could impact a team. Imaging a team trying to overcome a complex technical challenge such as getting a test case to pass. They aren't sure why it isn't passing and they are discussing solutions. One person's comments could lead the team all in the wrong direction without them even realizing it.

So how do we combat this? The reason priming happens is because our fast, intuitive mind takes over. To combat it, we need to rely on our more cognitive side, which Kahneman points out is also lazy and willing to let the intuitive side run the show. For this imaginary team, using a red teaming approach might work, or an analytical took such as Five Whys. Anything that will get the team to look beyond intuition and engage their more deliberate thinking patterns.

As far as Thinking, Fast and Slow, I'm only about a quarter of the way through and have come across a lot of interesting ideas, so I am sure I'll have more to post on the book.