There’s a new book out called Fast Thinking and Slow Thinking by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for Economics. It deals with new knowledge on how humans think. Fast thinking is the way in which we reach quick and dirty decisions, whilst slow thinking occurs when we weigh evidence and reach a rational decision. Quick and dirty thinking is of the flight or fight variety. While the slow one is of the valuation of different courses of action by weighing all the options. They both have different purposes and can be considered as instinctive versus deliberate actions.
Issues only arise when the methods, particularly the fast thinking, are used inappropriately. A snap judgment on which investment strategy you should pursue on your retirement plan is probably not a recommended method. Weighing all your options when suddenly faced with a rattlesnake also might not be sensible.
The problem we face is that deliberative thinking is hard work, literally, for the brain. It takes focus and it requires the full use of our frontal lobe – the frontal lobe doesn’t do multitasking. So in order to reduce the cognitive workload the brain is pre-conditioned to try out the quick and dirty methods first, they do allow multitasking. It looks for rules of thumb or previous experiences, close or otherwise, to help it come up with a decision. It takes a real effort for us to overcome this tendency to jump to conclusions. The English language is full of sayings that warn us of the dangers of hasty decisions: Look before you leap, Can’t judge a book by its cover, Marry in haste, repent at leisure, Count to ten before answering, etc.
This knowledge is important for everyone, not just project managers, because if you know how the brain really works then you can both adjust you own thought processes and also assess other peoples. In fact in a political sense you can try and trigger a fast response and thereby lead your opponent into error. So paraphrase the Sun Tzu saying: ‘know your opponents thinking process know your own and you’ll be successful.’