The SCN Encourager – Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Overwhelmed? Juggling many different projects? Speed up!

Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t come up with the “speed up” answer. It came from organizational guru Price Prittchett’s handbook “New Work Habits for a Radically Changing World.”

In a chapter titled “Speed Up” he writes, “Organizations must accelerate or they die. We live in an impatient world, with fierce competition and fleeting opportunities. Organizations that are lean, agile, and quick to respond clearly have the edge. But organizations can’t go fast if employees go slow. You need to operate with a strong sense of urgency.”

Do you think Prittchett is correct?  Partially correct?  Me, I’m not so sure. While I understand the growing emphasis on speed – who waits for anything these days? – I’m not convinced worshiping at the altar of King Speedy Kwik serves us well. Don’t we all need more time to think?

I decided to chew on this awhile. Mull it over as they say. Yep. It was time to do some deep thinking about thinking and report back to you. After all, the Tin Man used his brain. Why can’t I?

I would need a lot of help, though, so I turned to my trusty internet radio. With all of my pre-programmed buttons set on talk shows where no one really thinks much, I knew I’d have to get out of my comfort zone (and drag you along with me!). Time to explore the great unknown.

So I took a trip (via my radio) to Wisconsin and caught up with the public radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge.” It uses an amazing format. People just talk to one another without shouting. Really. I’m not lying. This must be a new concept or something, but what the heck? I was desperate. My attempts to “think about thinking” on my own were going nowhere.

A podcast of its Sunday Show (10/14/12) came to my rescue. And I think you’ll find what I learned interesting as well. (Much better than if I was the one doing the thinking!)

The person interviewed was Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman. The show teased that if anyone was the best person to talk about “thinking” – he was the one, as he just released his book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

I found Kahneman’s contention that we all use two systems of thinking fascinating.

System 1 is that one we use most of the time. It’s fast (ie. speedy kwik) because we use it unconsciously. This is where we connect with our instincts and intuitions. This is where we also connect with our natural tendencies and our personal prejudices. This is where we make our zillions of daily speedy kwik judgements, both good and bad. (FYI. “Speedy kwik” is my phrase, not Kahneman’s, in case you’re wondering.)

System 2 is where we do our most critical thinking and deliberating. This is where we develop our high quality decisions and make our best choices – but there’s one big problem – who has the time for all of this? Even Kahneman concedes that to survive, we must rely on the power of System 1 thinking. Want to live to a ripe old age? Be adept at “jumping to conclusions.” (System 1)

The point.

We’re busy, overwhelmed, and more and more keeps getting added to our piles. We know that System 1 thinking causes us to make frequent errors and perpetuate our own bias. But dang, it works so efficiently! It keeps us zipping right along. It keeps us active, engaged, and pro-active. (System 1 helps us be happy and content, too . . . right?)

But while System 1 is our necessary co-pilot as we zigzag down the fast track, Kahneman says that we need to intentionally slow way down and purposefully push our thinking into our System 2 domain. Just having speed (and adding more speed) without direction or meaning only keeps us on the treadmill of burn-out and frustration.

To handle all of our stress and multi-tasking, the trick is not to “speed up.” Rather, Kahneman says the trick is to STOP. Which, of course, isn’t easy for any of us to do. But if we take the time. And if we make the time. We can influence and shape our valuable System 1 instincts by investing time in  System 2 thinking.  Now this makes sense to me. Just devoting a little more time in the System 2 domain will vastly improve our “speedy kwik” System 1 capabilities.

The podcast is here for you. Even though no one ever says “speedy kwik,” it’s still excellent.

Tom Page, SCN managing editor
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