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6 posts from January 2013

TFS: Harnessing our self control

Our rationality, our motivation to avoid thinking errors, is limited by the availability of self control. And self control is a finite resource, as is our attention.Tq130124bb

The more of our attention that's directed to self control, the less energy we have available for deliberate thought. A triumph of self control is followed by a state called ego depletion. We instinctively avoid effort and seek relaxation. 

For me, the way to avoid the sloppy thinking that can occur during ego depletion is to plan for some time to bounce back. Don't expect that you can develop this massive will-power muscle that never needs to rest. Just as body builders rest their muscles, we should give our will power a brief vacation. If we plan ahead we can allow for safe, healthy rest and avoid exposure to risky, exciting temptations like drinking too much or spending too much. 

Why we have to hang onto the pessimists

Daniel Kahneman says his book Thinking Fast and Slow is not prescriptive, but plenty of us are trying to figure out how to improve our decision making since we read the book. 

In this excellent interview, Kahneman is asked how companies can apply what he's learned. He says one of the most important things a company can do is 'protect the pessimists.' All us optimists know that pessimists do not help us get more done. They slow us down. Right. They slow us down and make us think twice! Q&A: Economist Daniel Kahneman, the Pioneer of Heuristics, 2012-Oct-14, Interview by Nathan Labenz from The Singularity Summit 2012


At about 12 minutes, he talks about protecting pessimists.

TFS: Attention to Effort

According to Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow, the two systems in our brain share the use of our attention, Tq130714thbut are polar opposites when it comes to using effort. Using System 2 means more than slowing down, it means 'thinking harder.' Kahneman describes System 2 as lazy, which means it has to be kicked into action. I find it easier to think of System 2 as determined to conserve energy. The more you pressure System 2, the more you drain yourself, and one of the most exhausting things is to try and make slow thinking go faster. One of the best ways to avoid the drain is to apply your talents and skills, and to avoid multitasking. 

One of Kahneman's most amusing points is that System 2 sees itself as the hero of the story and never gives the fast-thinking System 1 any credit. And that's too bad because System 1 is the source of integration and insight. First, work your System 2 to dig up the missing facts then let things simmer for awhile. When everything things comes together you'll experience what Bill Duggan calls "strategic intuition" flashing out of System 1. 

TFS: How to avoid second-rate decisions

As I was reading Thinking Fast and Slow, my mind spun back to many times I've made bad decisions. In my profession, marketing, every big decision must deal with both complexity and uncertainty. And yet we're make so many decisions based on a hunch, a gut feeling, or a reflex. Our decisions are unfairly influenced by recent events or impressions. These bad decisions are accompanied by a strong sense of confidence because we're using our fast-thinking "System 1" which jumps to conclusions using heuristics, or decision-making short-cuts. With System 1, confidence does not reflect quality, it reflects the strength of the story inside your head, which could well be a fantasy. 

There is a way to avoid the pitfalls of decision-making with Tq130107ttheuristics, according to Kahneman:

"Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high."

You may also enjoy a more light-hearted look at the topic with David McRaney's book and blog: You Are Not So Smart. He talks about these decision-making fantasies as 'confabulations.' 

The next time you're facing a decision where either chance or unknowable influences will play a major role, take your best hunch and poke a hole in it. Are you substituting an easy question for a hard one? Are you primed by a preference for the familiar? Have you really tried to learn as much as you can, or are you assuming that you have all the facts? Are you taking a crazy risk to avoid a looming loss? Do you realize how reckless most people become in those circumstances? Think twice because it's NOT all right!

Marketing yourself means making connections not filling out applications

I listen to many of my friends complain about job listings, and my advice is... just pretend they don't exist because they are worthless. Tq130104hdFigure out where you want to work... where you want to make a contribution... then network around that target. You may end up working somewhere else, but you'll be better off for the process. 

Ari on the Internet: College & Beyond: A Lesson in the Job Search, 2012-Dec-31, by Ari Diozon

You can scour alI the job boards and classifieds you want. But it's a hell of a lot easier when you know somebody. I got every interview I had by personal suggestion. Get to know people. Even if they're not in the industry you're trying to break into. You never know where the magic connection will come from. For me, it ending up being my ex-neighbor's uncle, a teacher from an extracurricular class, and a freelancing club administrator.

Taking a few months to practice Thinking Slow


I like to think. Seriously, it's one of my 'Stengthsfinder' strengths--which means I'm supposed to use it and develop it. But that's not why I'm launching this project, a multi-month discussion of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow (to be known here as TFS). 

For me, TFS's biggest revelation was why the marketing profession is so harsh. Outcomes seem random (because they usually are) and justifying your plans absorbs as much time as executing them. 

TFS author Daniel Kahneman brings together many things I've learned and packages them into a way of seeing the challenges which leads to a way of handling them. Why this project is worth the investment of time--mine and yours:

  1. We've got to win more supporters for our plans. 
  2. In marketing, the path to success is hard to distinguish from the distractions. (If it were all smoke and mirrors, it would be easier, but occasionally it works rationally.)

We need something to hang onto... our decision-making process. Tom Webster is on the same track. 

Tom Webster: The Dark Side of Content Marketing, 2012-Nov-12

Our first obligation is to wonder. When we are confronted with a new piece of data, or some new prescriptive article about the best way to use social media, the enlightened reader wonders if it is actually true and applicable to their situation, and then seeks to disprove it.

This has nothing to do with doubt and everything to do with confirmation bias. If you cannot disprove a thing after putting it to the test for your specific situation, then you have a genuine insight. But if you can readily disprove it, then you know to keep looking. And I don't know about you, but I keep looking, each and every day.