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Are You A Slow Thinker? Good for you!

First, a quick tutorial on Fast and Slow thinking – or System 1 and System 2 Thinking as popularized by Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman – in case you are not familiar.

Fast / System 1 Thinking

System 1 thinking can be thought of as our “immediate response” to something. When the alarm goes off in the morning – we get up. We don’t stop and ponder – what is that noise? what does it mean? should I get up right now? There is an immediate understanding of the information coming in and an immediate and knowledgeable response to that information. (Caution! This sometimes leads us to applying bias to situations that do in fact require more thought, and System 1 can be manipulated through the use of priming and anchoring.) System 1 also enables us to do several things at once, so long as they are easy and undemanding.

System 1 thinking is in charge of what we do most of the time. However, you want system 2 to be in control.

Slow / System 2 Thinking

System 2 thinking is the kind of thinking that requires you to struggle a bit. In this short (4:22) video featuring Kahneman, he gives the example of being able to answer 2 x2 vs. 17 x 24. The latter causes you to pause and put more mental energy in to arriving at the answer. If you’d like to try a fun activity to test your slow thinking ability, click here. Or watch the famous Invisible Gorilla video which illustrates that when System 2 is concentrating on one thing (counting the number of passes) it cannot concentrate on another (seeing a gorilla walk through the frame).

With practice System 2 can turn in to System 1 thinking, as in the case of a firefighter or airline pilot. Once sufficient application of System 2 thinking has occurred, over an extended period of time, and in varying circumstances, it becomes “easy.” System 1 is all about “knowing” with little effort – as an expert is able to.

System 2 Thinking in Learning

What does System 2 Thinking mean for learning in organizations? Quite a lot, actually. In a recent blog post by Karl Kapp, in which he describes purposefully causing his students to struggle, he states, “Unfortunately most learning is designed to avoid struggle, to spoon feed learners. This is not good… The act of struggling and manipulating and engaging with content makes it more meaningful and more memorable. “

Another important job of System 2 thinking is that it is in charge of self-control. This is an important skill / quality in the workplace. It allows us to measure the information coming at us and respond appropriately (which means, sometimes, not responding at all). Controlling thoughts and behaviors is difficult and tiring. Unfortunately many people find cognitive effort unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible (so says Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow). Because of this tendency, we need to make teaching thinking skills a priority in workplace learning and development.  This could be a challenge. Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, posits that older Americans may be better equipped for serious thinking because they didn’t grow up with smartphones and can “stand to be bored or more than a second.” And a study conducted at Florida State University determined that a single notification on your phone weakens one’s ability to focus on a task. The ability to focus is crucial not only in completing tasks but in learning new things as well.

The ability to focus without distraction and to perform cognitively demanding tasks is THE job skill of the future.