Balancing Fast and Slow Thought
In this week’s episode of Find the Red Thread, Tamsen breaks down some ideas from Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow. We think at two levels: there’s a fast level where an image or a sound gives us a lot of meaning instantly; and there’s also a slow level where we need to be more analytical and think more cautiously, like for a math problem.
The most powerful messages are heard at both the fast and slow levels. We need to appeal to the emotional, irrational part of our brains by following story structure and using the Red Thread. At the same time, we also need to make sure that our message makes intellectual sense, that each step has been thought through and stands on its own.
The next time you’re putting together a message or presentation, ask yourself: am I finding a balance between fast and slow thinking? If you can get it right, you can craft a message that resonates.
- NYTimes Book Review – Thinking Fast and Slow
- Thinking Fast and Slow – an animated review
- Daniel Kahneman’s Google talk
– If you were to hear a sound like this, or see an image like this of a man screaming, your brain, very quickly, would start to be putting a whole bunch of other pieces of information in place. In contrast, if I were to ask you, “What is 11 times 24?”, your brain has to slow down in order to find that answer.
Why does this matter? Because this concept of fast and slow, it’s one of the most important for any of us who put together or present messages. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com, and this is Find the Red Thread.
This screaming man versus math problem example comes from economist Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. As he describes it, we think, always, at two levels. A fast level, that’s the screaming man image, sounds, things that make sense instantly. And at a slow level, where we have to be more analytical and think more cautiously about things. It’s the extra work that our brain does with all of those fast inputs. This is important for us to understand as communicators and as message makers, because the most powerful messages are heard at both the fast and slow levels.
The most powerful messages are both fast and slow. What does that mean though? How do you do that? Well, the first is to make sure that it’s presented and constructed in such a way that it speaks to the instant emotional, irrational parts of our brains. One of the best ways to do that is to follow story structure, and here, the Red Thread can help you. Because if you use the Goal, the Problem, the Idea, the Change and the Action, in that order, you’ll automatically follow story structure.
The second thing is to make sure it makes intellectual sense. So, when you’re figuring out the Goal, the Problem, the Idea, the Change and the Action, make sure that each of those makes sense, both on its own and together, intellectually. That way, you’ll be sure that whatever feels like a story in the moment, stands up when somebody starts to think about it later.
There’s one other thing that I want to tell you about presenting fast and slow. That’s to make sure that you support each of those points in both fast and slow ways. What do I mean by that? The slow ways to present information are things like data, charts, fact, figures, equations. That’s where a lot of business presentations spend a little bit too much time, frankly. But those things, on their own, are not bad. They just have to be balanced with fast ways.
There’s one other slow type of information or slow presentation of information I want to mention, and that’s concepts. Sometimes it’s captured in quotes, sometimes it’s some kind of phrase, like the moral of a story, but when we just give someone a concept, a rolling stone gathers no moss, that’s something that people have to think about a little bit more, so it’s slower.
I mentioned the best way to do that information, present that information, is to balance it with fast styles of presentation. What are those? Two categories here. One is story. Actually telling stories that illustrate the concepts and the data that you’re talking about.
The second is with, what I’d call, exercise or metaphor, where you’re asking people to think through exactly how this would work for them. That’s an exercise. Or, think through how this works in a parallel way. That’s something they understand automatically, because it’s something they already understand. Metaphors use pre-existing information to map new information over.
When you’re putting messages together, and when you’re presenting them, ask yourself, “Is this both fast and slow?” If it is, then you’ve got a very strong Red Thread. If you want help finding your Red Thread, go to findyourredthread.com and download The Red Thread worksheet. If you need any help, contact me at tamsenwebster.com/contact.