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The Human Side of Postmortems by Dave Zwieback

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Cognitive Biases

The Benefits and Pitfalls of Intuitive and Analytical Thinking

To further quote Kahneman, “the law of small numbers is a manifestation of a general bias that favors certainty over doubt.” What other biases affect people working with complex systems? And how can they be overcome?

To begin our discussion of cognitive biases, we should introduce the theory of two different systems (or types) of thinking. Perhaps the best way to do it is through examples:

What is 2+2?

What is the capital of France?

Did you notice that in the above examples, you arrived at the answers (4 and Paris, respectively) quickly, automatically, and without effort? In fact, there was almost nothing you could do to stop the answers from appearing in your mind. This fast, intuitive, and largely automatic thinking is known as System 1 thinking. This type of thinking is largely based on associative memory and experience. This is the thinking celebrated in Malcom Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. A famous example from Blink is that of the Getty kouros, a statue bought by the Getty Museum. Despite the statue’s credible documentation, expert archeologists identified it as fake, seemingly at a glance and despite their inability to specify the exact reasons.

Now, let’s illustrate the other (System 2) thinking:

What is 367 x 108?

Unless you’ve memorized the answer previously, or have made a career of performing feats of mental math, it did not automatically come to mind and it ...

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