I read the fascinating Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman last summer.  The book is ostensibly about decision-making but is has wide-reaching implications for school leaders.   The book challenges Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink by pointing out the ways that our intuitive decision-making system (championed by Gladwell) leads us astray.  He advocates slowing down and challenging our assumptions for important decisions, utilizing our analytical thought processes.

Kahneman challenges the “group think” which dominates our committee and faculty meetings.  He believes the best process is gathering feedback first (usually via writing) before we begin discussing an important issue.  He recommends a “premortem” when making an important decision.  People should be asked, “How might this project/decision fail?”

He also challenges traditional job interviews, advocating for a more scientific approach which would award points in certain categories.  Far too often, he argues, we base our decisions on intuition based on false premises and “heuristics” (defined as a problem-solving approach).  Examples include:

  • Availability heuristic: what immediately comes to mind
  • Affect heuristic: how you’re feeling
  • Halo effect: because you like a person, you believe everything about him/her is true
  • Overconfidence: little correlation to the actual facts, often linked with “competition neglect” meaning that we ignore competing claims to our explanations
  • Framing: The context of the problem affects your thinking
  • Anchoring effect: Where you start determines where you “end”
  • Representative heuristic: familiarity & experience influence your thinking
  • Conjunctive fallacy: two simultaneous events are linked
  • Narrative fallacy: our stories of our past affect our interpretation
  • Endowment effect: we put more value on things we desire
  • Possibility effect: highly unlikely events weighted proportionately (e.g. we take hope in a 1% chance to win the lotter)
  • Certainty effect: less weight given to events which are nearly certain (e.g. if told we had a 99% chance to win, we would fret over the 1% chance we’d lose)

One of the most interesting ideas which I though had relevance to school was the “peak end rule.”  Kahneman argues that unpleasant experiences are more bearable if they end well.  In an experiment, people plunged their hands into ice water for 60 or 90 seconds.  In the second situation, however, the temperature of the ice water was slightly raised for the last 30 seconds.  When people were subjected to both experiments, they overwhelmingly chose the second experiment because they had a fonder memory of it.

People tend to show “duration neglect” by ignoring the length of an unpleasant experience because our “remembering self” ignores the reality of time.  I thought of graduations and end of the year experiences.  Could the experiences and rituals we provide our graduates (8th grade or high school) influence our school memories?

I recommend the book.  You’ll find yourself enmeshed with math & gambling “problems” as well as challenges to your assumptions and new ways to think about decision-making.