Thinking Slow and Fast

Inspired by Tony Fadell and Daniel Kahnemann

Photo by Basil Smith on Unsplash

“All things are created twice.” — Stephen R. Covey

Dr. Covey was getting at the idea that before you hammer the first nail into place you draft a blueprint that expresses your idealized destination. The act of creation is equal parts imagination and craft. It’s not just about putting the pieces together, it’s as much about imagining how the pieces should go together.

The insight here is that there are two distinct motions to the process of creation. Each phase asks something different from us as makers. Imagination and creativity dominate early and structure and skill later, but it is never a stepwise progression. Decisions happen throughout the entire process and in every decision lies the opportunity for creativity.

In a recent interview, Tony Fadell touched on this dualistic reality, noting how some work requires speed and other patience. To be effective, you have to consider which type of work you’re doing and act accordingly. In his words, ‘you’ve got to bucket it’.

Tony begins by discussing the later part of a project, when you’ve been there before, and the path ahead more obvious.

“It’s just like, get the stuff out the door! It’s not like researching and trying to engineer and find the right widget for X, Y, Z. It’s really just the process of getting it done.” — Tony Fadell, Co-Founder Nest

Tony continues, giving us a bit of insight into the other, exploratory mode of a project.

“Then there’s the other phase — it’s a process of discovery. The process of getting to insight. And yeah, those always take longer.” — Tony Fadell, Co-Founder Nest

Often in our work, we blend these two phases and it’s a recipe for disaster. Early in a project, when you’re figuring out where to go — it can’t be rushed. If we treat discovery like a rote operation to be optimized, the magic will bleed out. The team will be frustrated and the end result will be forced, stunted.

Economist Daniel Kahneman has a similar idea around thinking patterns, noting that humans have two modes of thought. He calls them, wait for it, System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast and instinctive while System 2 is more deliberate.

Kahneman’s definitions don’t match Tony’s exactly, but the notion that we have two discrete systems does. If you’re aware we have two modes of thinking, you can bring that awareness to your work. You can consider the problem you’re addressing and apply the system best suited to the task at hand.

Are you in the process of ‘getting it done’ or ‘figuring it out’? Is this the time for patient exploration (discovery) or ruthless execution (delivery). Driving discovery hard and letting play slip into a delivery schedule will deliver a weak product quickly. Protect the slow thinking and optimize the fast, while understanding not everyone excels in both.

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Paul Pedrazzi

Paul Pedrazzi

Product @ Salesforce. Advisor @flipboard. Subscribe: pedrazzi.substack.com