Deactivate autopilot and engage thinking mode

Inspired-Search | 2 March 2018

Humans are very good at figuring out how to complete task and activities with the minimum amount of effort. Supply chain and logistics professionals are even more skilled in achieving a predictable and maximized output in the leanest possible way. There are numerous situations in which this is perfectly fine, but – and it’s a big ‘but’ – there are also situations in which this is counterproductive. I’m referring to when we use our brains in the leanest possible way. This, in combination with the complete lack of human intuition in the field of statistics, can lead to disastrous results.

According to cognitive research described by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, the human brain typically operates in two different modes. The mode of preference is System 1: fast and almost automatic operation requiring little to no effort and with almost no sense of control. Then there is System 2 mode, which deals with situations that demand some real thought effort. In other words, System 1 is autopilot mode and System 2 is thinking mode. Driving a car on the open road can be done by System 1. However, parking that very same car in a tight spot requires System 2 to kick in.

System 2 consumes much more energy and effort than the autopilot mode. As I mentioned above, humans have learned to manage their energy levels very effectively, and most of us will be in System 1 mode most of the time. And therein lies the danger: an over-reliance on automatic mode, and failure to activate System 2 from time to time. In fact, I’ve succumbed to this pitfall many times in the past. To force myself to engage System 2, I’ve put a comfortable chair in my office that I call my ‘thinking chair’. It’s somewhere for me to actively sit and think about situations and problems, without jumping to conclusions and rushing to find solutions while still in System 1 mode.

Things get even worse when the lack of thought in System 1 mode is combined with very poor, or even absent, intuition in the field of statistics. Generally speaking, people place too much confidence in statistics, even when a sample size is way too small to draw any relevant conclusions. In addition, statistics seem to suggest causal explanations – but the effect of coincidence is very much underestimated. Believing that you understand the rational or root cause of the situation while you are ‘thinking’ in autopilot mode can produce disastrous results.

So, my advice to you is, get yourself an equivalent of my thinking chair and actively think about situations. In a day-to-day example, even properly reading an email rather than just scanning it provides so much more insight. While thinking, be critical about the data presented, the sources and definitions used, and any obvious conclusions drawn. I’ve found my chair to be very valuable, although every now and then I reach the end of the week and realize that I haven’t used it…

To me, the next best thing to thinking is listening. It’s amazing where discussions can go if you truly listen to people, think about what they have said and react to it. That’s a very different approach from just using the time while they speak to formulate what you want to say next.

Happy thinking and listening!

Oskar