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December 2018
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Think less conscious – find more solutions

Pieter VDPieter VD

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, a well-known psychologist, wrote a book titled Thinking, Fast and Slow about behavioral economics. He discovered that the economy is not based on abstract mathematical and rational decisions, but rather on irrational decisions. In fact, he translates that into two systems in our brain. System 1 is the unconscious gut-feeling. System 2 is what we think is ‘me’, or: our conscious self.

System 1 System 2
Unconscious Conscious
Fast Slow
Intuitive Rational
Multi tasking Linear
Remembers everything Forgets
11 million bits / second 40 bits / second
95 % cognitive 5 % cognitive
Not accessible Chatters away

But what can we learn from the differences between the two systems? In this blog post, we’ll tell you how you can use them to your advantage.

Solve problems with system 1

It's good to give your conscious thinking a rest every now and thenIn our jobs, we’re thinking about something most of the time. Thinking about software, about a problem or better yet: coming up with its solution. However, standing up, taking a break, playing some table football or table tennis? Not many people would categorize that as ‘working’.

But they’re wrong.

In our perception, the actual conscious thinking is what solves the problem, which usually involves staring at a screen. In reality, it isn’t. More often than not, you’ll solve a problem by not thinking about it. Just after waking up or right before going to sleep, in the shower, or by talking to someone. So, while we think we solve problems by using system 2, it’s wise to be conscious of your unconsciousness (ha!) and use it to your advantage.

Conscious thinking is best in certain situations, be aware of quick unconscious decisionsImagine person A has €10. They can give any amount of that €10 to person B. Experiments shows person B won’t accept the offer from person A if it is less than a certain amount, e.g. €3. Which is weird if you start using your system 2 and think about it: person B would rather have nothing than €3. If we were to send person B out of the room to think about it for 10 min, the chances of them accepting the money would drastically increase.

System 1 is the boss…

The unconscious is the boss over the consciousSystem 1 is the true ‘boss’ and and gradually takes control over (some) things that used to be in system 2. This goes the other way as well: system 2 cannot govern system 1. Imagine you’re a professional golf player, and you try to think (too) hard about how to swing your club, chances are that you overthink and act wrong. System 2 doesn’t and can’t understand what system 1 does, and there’s no point in trying.

Let’s use a metaphor to illustrate this: an elephant with a rider. The rider represents system 2, the elephant represents system 1. Think about who’s the real boss in this situation: the elephant or the rider?

Here’s an example from our daily lives: riding a bike. Riding a bike is learned by system 2. After a while, the knowledge transfers to system 1. Most people don’t really actively think about how to ride a bike. After a while, they just… do it.

…but it isn’t holy

System 1 is the boss, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own problems. In fact, there are a couple:

These problems are not unsolvable, though. We’ll get more into how to avoid them in a future blog post.

One of the takeaways is to be conscious of your unconscious ‘thinking’Takeaway

This blog post is based on Linda Rising’s and Karl Scotland’s talks at Lean Agile Scotland in October of this year.

Agile believer, amateur philosopher, IT-er, change agent, dad / husband, sustainable motivator

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