Nobel Prizewinner Daniel Kahneman is famous for:

1. Being a psychologist
2. Despite that, winning a Nobel Prize for Economics
3. His work on Prospect Theory
4. His book, “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow”.
5. Etc.

In “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow”, he argues that your mind is actually two people. In my case:

• Jayson 1: who is the fast thinker, my impulsive and intuitive self, acting on reflex honed by millennia of evolution. He’s the guy that blinks to keep the dust out of my eye before Jayson 2 is even aware that there is dust on the inbound.
• Jayson 2: is the slow thinker that doesn’t really want to do the work of thinking, but when forced, is capable of critical thought, wordplay, complex calculation, judgement, concentration and debate.

And wherever possible, Jayson 2 will let Jayson 1 take the lead, which is really a problem (and/or an energy efficiency) that goes for each of us.

The thing is – Jayson 1 can be very wrong.

Kahneman likes to quote the work of Shane Frederick, who developed the Cognitive Reflection Test (or CRT). It’s often referred to as the shortest IQ test in the world.

Here it is:

The Cognitive Reflection Test

Please answer the following questions. You have a total of 90 seconds, or 30 seconds per question:

1. A bat and a ball cost \$1.10 in total. The bat costs \$1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
2. If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

When the first question in the CRT was administered to students at Harvard, Princeton and MIT, only 50% got all the right answers. At lesser schools, that number dropped down to 20% (that is, around 80% of people get it wrong).

And what they determined is, even for professors like Professor Kahneman, everyone immediately has an intuitive (wrong) answer for these questions (thanks to System 1). It’s only when the mental effort of System 2 is exerted that you get the right answer.

The questions again, this time with the answers:

1. A bat and a ball cost \$1.10 in total. The bat costs \$1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
1. System 1 answer: 10 cents
2. System 2 answer: well actually, if the ball costs 10 cents, then the bat costs \$1.10 – so together, they’ll cost \$1.20. So that’s the wrong answer. *thinks* *mental algebra* The ball costs 5 cents.
2. If it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
1. System 1 answer: 100 minutes.
2. System 2 answer: if it takes five machines five minutes to make five widgets, that means that each machine takes 5 minutes to make a widget. So if I have 100 machines, they’ll each make a widget in 5 minutes. So the answer is 5 minutes.
3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
1. System 1 answer: 24 days
2. System 2 answer: well if it doubles in size each day, then on the 47th day, it covered half the lake. So: 47 days.

The Interesting Part

The test was administered to a set of 40 Princeton students, but half of the subjects received the test in small greyed-out font that was legible but required some mental concentration.

The results:

• Of those that received the test in clear font that was easy to read, 90% got at least one answer wrong.
• When the test was difficult to read, that percentage dropped to 35%.

Which means that, when System 2 is jogged into action (by something like difficult reading), you’re vastly more likely to apply your System 2 mind to the questions being asked.

What That Means In The Office

When you need to send out an awkward CYA email, phrase it as positively as you can, using a large font with a bold typeface. 90% of the time, you’ll get away with it.

But when you want to say something important that you really want people to think about, don’t use capslock, red font or yellow highlighting  – just make it almost impossible to read.