How to slow down and make better decisions: 10 practical actions for your team.

Daniel Kahneman, a renowned psychologist and Nobel laureate, introduced the concept of System 1 and System 2 thinking in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). System 1 thinking is fast, instinctive, and intuitive, while System 2 thinking is slower, more deliberate, and analytical.

System 2 decision making involves mental effort, critical thinking, and rational analysis. It is suggested that by deliberately engaging in System 2 thinking, we can reduce our bias and the risk of making poor decisions, which is critical for good business.

Bias is ingrained in our cognitive process. It influences our perceptions, judgments, and decision-making without us even knowing it. These are called unconscious biases. Even when we are well meaning, situations that require  quick decisions often revert to the safety and familiarity of System 1 thinking.

In today’s fast paced and technology driven workplaces, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we need to make decisions rapidly. While this has some merits, for important decisions, engaging with System 2 thinking in the workplace can lead to better problem-solving, improved decision making, and enhanced creativity. On the other hand, System 1 thinking, can often lead to bias and discrimination.

For example, confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs, can reinforce existing biases and prevent us from challenging discriminatory attitudes or considering alternative perspectives. Recency bias, the overstatement of the importance or value of the latest information we receive, can cause judgement errors where we can limit the scope of information we consider or make assumptions based on short term trajectories.

Here are 10 practical ways to encourage System 2 decision making:

1. Prioritise evidence

Before making a decision, gather and analyse all relevant information. Be critical in assessing the ‘relevance’ of data to the specific decision being made. Fact check and clearly identify what assumptions have been made. The process of gathering and reviewing evidence requires deliberate thought, critical to System 2 thinking.

2. Introduce decision-making frameworks

Use structured decision-making processes like SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threats) analysis, cost-benefit analysis, or scenario analysis. These tools encourage comprehensive evaluation and help slow down the decision-making process.

3. Promote critical thinking

Encourage employees to ask probing questions and challenge assumptions. Incorporate open brainstorming sessions where people can analyse problems from different angles. Encourage and celebrate debate and challenge.

4. Schedule time for deep work

Allocate and protect specific periods for focused, uninterrupted work. This allows for the deep thought required for System 2 thinking and minimises the influence of distractions, which can often prompt System 1 thinking.

Reserve a few hours each week for individual deep work, free from meetings or interruptions. This time could be used for complex tasks that require extended, focused attention, like developing a project plan or writing a detailed report.

5. Foster a culture of mindfulness and reflection

Encourage employees to take regular breaks and go for short walks, meditate, or engage in mindfulness exercises. Mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their own bias and improve focus, leading to better decision making.

For example, initiate a daily 10-minute mindfulness session where employees can meditate or reflect on their day, fostering self-awareness and mental clarity. This is also a great tool to use during long meetings or workshops.

6. Embrace diversity

A diverse team brings a broad range of perspectives, encouraging more comprehensive analysis of a problem and facilitating System 2 thinking.

Hire or invite external individuals that come from varied backgrounds and who have broad experiences. For instance, a project team made up of people of different ages, education backgrounds, and industry experiences will bring a more comprehensive perspective to how potential customers or employees might react to change.

7. Encourage ongoing learning and training

Regular courses, workshops or training sessions on critical thinking, analytical tools, and bias awareness can help strengthen System 2 thinking abilities.

Regular training plays into the recency bias as people will be more likely to fall back on their latest training or exposure when faced with their next decision making challenge.

8. Use anonymous feedback

Give people time and space in a decision making setting to submit anonymous feedback on the decision being made. Anonymity is a powerful tool that can help to break down hierarchies, over-ride dominant personalities and allow for all participants to have their genuine thoughts to be expressed and heard.

Incorporating anonymous feedback is a deliberate process that encourages critical analysis and reduces the reliance on opinions, which can easily be skewed by dominant personality types, who often unwillingly drive groupthink bias.

9. Review your decisions

Regularly review and discuss decision-making processes. This can help identify instances where System 1 thinking may have been used and explore how to apply System 2 thinking more effectively.

After a project completion, hold a lesson learned or retrospective meeting to review the decision-making process. Discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how decisions could be made differently in the future. Attempt to identify environments or circumstances that are counter to the points listed above and adjust your decision-making processes accordingly.

10. Reward thoughtful decision making

Recognise and reward decisions that are based on thorough analysis and careful deliberation. This can motivate people to engage more in System 2 thinking.

Recognise people who make well-considered decisions. For example, if a person’s carefully analysed decision led to cost savings or increased efficiency, acknowledge their successful use of System 2 thinking in a team meeting or company newsletter. Reward the process, not just the outcome.

 

In a world that often demands quick decisions, choosing to slow down and engage in System 2 thinking can significantly enhance our decision-making abilities. By gathering information, evaluating alternatives, and using decision-making frameworks, we can make decisions that are more informed and rational. In this way we can also reduce the impact of unconscious biases that can lead to errors in judgement or unfair discrimination.

System 2 isn’t about taking forever to decide. It’s about making thoughtful, informed choices. It’s about fostering growth, embracing self-awareness, and above all, making decisions that you can stand by.

So next time, don’t just rush to decide. Take a moment. Breathe. Think. Let System 2 lead the way!

 

References:

  1. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  2. Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Grand Central Publishing.
  3. Lai, E. R. (2011). Critical thinking: A literature review. Pearson’s Research Reports, 6, 40-41.
  4. Croskerry, P. (2003). The importance of cognitive errors in diagnosis and strategies to minimize them. Academic medicine, 78(8), 775-780.