Understanding Consumers: Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow is one of those books that most people in our field Understanding Consumers: Thinking Fast and Slowhave read, or plan to read. It is a cornerstone work that embodies nearly 40 years of research that Dr. Kahneman worked on with his longtime partner Amos Tversky. The book spans a number of key areas and can be a bit dense at times, but is nonetheless amazing in terms of the breadth of questions Dr. Kahneman and Dr. Tversky were able to not only ask, but devise solid empirical methods to answer in the course of their careers. Dr. Kahneman is a world-renowned Psychologist, and interestingly, he was awarded a nobel prize in economics in 2002 for is work related to human irrationality.

Thinking Fast and Slow is an ambitious work that covers insights into how humans work and the psychology behind our thinking that Dr. Kahneman collected over more than 40 years of research. The book is a fascinating collection of insights, backed up with empirical evidence, that will leave those of us who love the study of the human mind wanting more, while at the same time unnerving those who don't like to consider how fraught with error our thinking process can be at times. The book is complex, and can feel a bit like a textbook at times, but well worth the effort.

Dr. Kahneman breaks our thinking into two distinct systems, System 1 and System 2 (not the most creative and helpful naming conventions)

  • System 2 is what we typically think of when we envision thinking, it is the slow, methodical, rational process we go through when we are solving a math problem, do our taxes, decide which route makes most sense, or any other rational process.
  • System 1 on the other hand is the intuitive, involuntary, effortless decisions we make all the time without attending to how the decision were made. i.e. When we are driving home from work on the same route we always take, or walking, or reacting in conversation with our friends. System 1 moves quickly and without voluntary guidance from the more formal processes we would describe as thinking.

These two systems operate in different ways, and they often conflict with each other. A focal point of the book, and Dr. Kahneman's work in general, is identifying situations in which our thinking leads us to make systematic errors.

Dr. Kahneman does a wonderful job identifying errors, coming up with empirical methods to document their impact on our thinking, and describing the situations that lead to those errors. Some of these have become well-documented effects that are commonly referenced, such as the halo effect, confirmation bias, and the law of small numbers. In addition to these effects, the book delves into dozens of additional examples. Thinking Fast and Slow is a wonderful read and well worth your time.

If you need something to read when you are done with Thinking Fast and Slow, check out some of our other book reviews; Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, The Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, Start With Why by Simon Sinek, and Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.