“Dare to be….Thinking, Fast and Slow”

 Why smart leaders work with executive coaches like me.

I am in the business of helping companies and individuals “to be the best that they can be”. To encourage prospects to consider using my services I have collated research that proves executive coaching is a financially sound decision (click here for the report); I have testimonials that indicate it’s practical and effective (click here to see them); I’m willing to provide a free introductory session so that prospects can “try before they buy” (click here to request a meeting); I write newsletters to provide advice, to keep Cognisi “top of mind” and encourage prospects to call.

All these activities (amongst others) provide steady flow of new clients and enable me to keep paying the mortgage, enjoy a reasonable lifestyle and keep the family happy. I’m certainly not complaining. I love doing what I do because I know with certainty that my executive coaching services are hugely effective in helping business leaders improve both business and personal performance.

But I’m even more evangelical today. My portfolio of persuasion has recently been boosted by the recent BBC Horizon programme “How You Really Make Decisions (here’s the iPlayer link: and from reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In my (perhaps biased) opinion I think it clearly provides additional justification about why smart leaders work with executive coaches like me.

If you are in a position of leadership and responsible for making decisions on a daily basis I encourage you to read his book and work with a coach. According to research we are all bad at making decisions. Our decision making process is often based on over simplification, laziness, prejudice and bias. And that is overlaid by our environment and we are often lead astray by our subconscious biases.

Kahneman has researched our decision making processes and simplified the mind’s decision-making process by dividing it into Systems 1 and 2:

  • System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
  • System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious

System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional, while System 2 is slower, more deliberative and logical. Kahneman’s fundamental proposition is that we identify with System 2, “the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices and decides what to think about and what to do”. But the one that is really in charge is System1 and for most of the time System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is in a comfortable low-effort mode in the background.

System 2 is a lazy controller and doesn’t like to expend much effort.  If people are asked questions or are required to make a decision, (especially ones that require deeper thinking), but their System 2 is not being engaged we may only get surface impressions not rational consideration. For example, if we want respondents to generate ideas for us, we need to get System 2 into the action. If it doesn’t it’s because it is lazy, then we get a bunch of superfluous answers with little depth. However, if we can use some other external mechanism to activate System 2 then we are in the game – I advocate a business coach!

If you want a simple example of how System 1 and 2 works let me use the following one.

A bat and a ball cost £1.10

If the bat costs £1.00 more that the ball, how much does the ball cost?

Most people, even the highly numerate, immediately come up with the answer 10p. This just pops into the mind – its intuitive not reasoned, it’s System 1 thinking. But as you’ve probably guessed the answer isn’t 10p and you’ve subsequently engaged your System 2 thinking and hopefully worked out that the real answer is 5p.

System 1 is fast, routinely guiding our thoughts and actions and it’s generally on the mark. System 1 typically uses “heuristics” which are mental shortcuts that allow us to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. However whilst these rule-of-thumb answers are helpful in many situations, they can also lead to errors because they are influenced by our ingrained biases. Just because something has worked in the past does not mean that it will work again, and relying on an existing heuristic usually results in us focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others. These rules work well under most circumstances, but they can lead to systematic deviations from logicprobability or rational choice.

Have a look at Wikipedia’s Biases section if you want a daunting list of human biases, but I have listed a few of below to show how they distort decision making:


Minimizing the impact of these biases is crucial. They can sneak into any management scenario we are looking at. We need to exercise considerable rigor at every stage of the process from assumption, right through to the presentation of alternative scenarios and their attendant considerations. To address the kinds of biases, we must challenge our decision making process by realising that we both influence and are influenced by the format of the information. The above heuristics have served us well as human beings when we were employed in work such as farming the land. They do, however, open us up for biased risk/reward decision-making when applied to today’s knowledge-based work. To minimise their impact, we must:

  • Seek diverse outside opinion to counter our overconfidence
  • Search relentlessly for potentially relevant or new disconfirming evidence
  • Accept the “Chief Contrarian” as part of the team
  • Reward the process and refrain from penalising errors when the intentions and efforts are sound
  • Reframe or flip the problem on its head to see if we are viewing the situation in either a positive or negative framework
  • Redefine the problem and ignore the old problem to avoid escalation of unnecessary commitment
  • Avoid the potential for escalation or further emotional investment in faulty decisions engendered by premature “public” commitment.

All good reasons to consider getting the support of an external business coach “me thinks” !!

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