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Yusen, We Have a Problem!: What Yoda and Gallagher Can Teach Us About Critical Thinking

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 7, 2017
Updated: Thursday, December 7, 2017

by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.

Continuing our series on critical thinking, pop quiz time! Answer the following questions:

1. You're on an airplane. Just as the plane reaches cruising altitude and the little "ding" goes off to tell you it's okay to use electronic devices, a baby starts crying uncontrollably. What's is wrong with the baby?

2. You join your friends after work for happy hour. What are you ordering to drink?

3. You are in a new town on a business trip and get lost on your way back to the hotel. There are two paths ahead – a dark alley with a windowless van parked there and a well-lit street lined with people. Which way do you go?

4. What's 275 x 456?

5. A colleague asks if it's better to buy a used car or lease a new one. What do you offer?

6. A new position opens at your company. The pay is more than you make now, but it requires travel at least 3 times a month. Do you apply?

And finally, are you ready for the "trick" question?

7. What is the one change that can be made at your company today that would increase employee job satisfaction?

Got your answers? What did you notice about your responses? Were any of the questions "easier" to answer? Did any answers come faster to you than others? Did any questions lead you to consult outside sources? Were there any you could not answer without asking a few questions first? The answers themselves are not important here; it's the way the answer comes to you that matters.

Psychologists have long discussed decision making and problem solving and over the years have come up with two distinct methods of thought: Keith Stanovich and Richard West coined the terms "System 1" and "System 2" to describe them. In his excellent book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman created the definitive source for understanding these concepts. Everyone uses both systems to get through their day-to-day lives. Both systems are important, but occasionally the wrong one is called upon leading to unresolved issues and lack of closure.

So what exactly are the two systems. The T-shirt answer is this:

  • System 1 is your gut.
  • System 2 is your brain.

Now, let's unpack them a bit.

Think about the crying baby on the airplane. Chances are when asked "What is wrong with that baby?" you answered, "He's hungry," or "His ears haven't popped yet," or maybe even "He's scared," but the answer probably came to you without much thought. These responses are likely based on your own experiences either as a parent with a baby on a plane or as a passenger of many flights with many screaming kids. Same as the dark alley with the windowless 70's serial killer van in it – you avoided that path without a second thought. Same as the drink at happy hour. Maybe it's a martini because they make great martinis there or maybe it's a diet coke because of your commute, but that answer is already there when you are asked. It's instinctual. It's autonomous. It's a "no-brainer." That is System 1 thinking. If you are a computer, System 1 is your operating system – always on under the desktop, always working, but never requiring any attention until something goes horribly wrong. It's in System 1 where your habits live, your prejudices, your likes and dislikes, and your preconceived notions. System 1 is what gets you into as much trouble as it helps you avoid.

Now what about that math problem? You probably knew how to solve it – get a calculator, grab a pencil, ask Alexa – but you didn't have the answer immediately. Same with the new job. Same with the "to lease or not to lease" (that is the question). You may have opinions on these subjects, but you would probably need a pro/con list about that new job – money vs. time away from your family, extra expenses, etc. – and would definitely need to know the average miles somebody drives a year before answering about a car lease! This is System 2. It's your spreadsheet program in your computer. It takes effort, requires work, often needs additional information, but the answers it provides are universally more reliable. System 2 is where logic and true root cause analysis take place.

So what about that trick question?

Remember Yoda from Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, telling Luke he must "unlearn what you have learned"? Remember Gallagher, the comedian from the 80's? Yeah, the watermelon guy. He had a bit (not the watermelon stuff) where he would talk about the world we lived in and all the problems abound in it and then would put on some funny glasses and say he was going to look at the world with his "new eyes"; yes, then later he'd smash some watermelons (seriously, talk about your System 1 getting in the way of System 2!).

The point Yoda and Gallagher made is that, very often our System 1 thinking will confuse us into thinking we know something that, in fact, we just happen to believe. Chances are if you are asked about the one thing that can be done to improve employee satisfaction in your company and you immediately spout out an answer, you may not be considering the entire big picture; you may be going with your own experience and not including others' points of view.

Let's put it another way. Have you ever been in a situation where you must introduce a new concept or process to someone and that person, upon learning about the new system, immediately shuts you down by saying "Oh that will never work and here's why." A laundry list usually follows and probably makes a lot of sense, but the danger here is that by using System 1 to shut down something that needs System 2, the work that needs to be done to fully understand the situation and solve the problem is being circumvented.

We have a term called "Wisdom of the Organization" that is used to describe an inherent trustworthiness of those who work in a position to possess better knowledge and instincts than those who don't. The flip side of this coin is that new ideas are sometimes drowned out by all the wisdom.

So be mindful (pun intended) when presented with an issue at your gemba. Your System 1 gut may have a quick and obvious solution, but unless you also fully explore the issue with System 2 thinking, what you have will only ever be a guess.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. FSG Press 2001
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Random House 2012

Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.

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Tags:  Critical Thinking 

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