Brains at work: how we really think

Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahneman has a new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, pitched to the general reader rather than a narrow academic audience.  He discusses 50 years of research, much of it his, that clearly shows that almost all people make judgments that are not strictly logical or logically consistent.

What’s that got to do with managing energy in the short or long run?

Managing energy use in buildings involves judgments and decisions so whatever you can do to improve the way you think will help you out.

Here are a few specific connections:

1. The “what you see is all there is” bias. This is “out of sight out of mind” with a twist—if you are paying attention to something, you forget about everything else.

For instance, when most people who are not energy experts think about energy use in buildings, they may focus on lights and plug-in items like printers and computers.   The opportunities to manage the relatively invisible heating, ventilation and cooling systems may be overlooked.

We may focus on one building at one point in time without having a useful reference set.  That’s why Energy Stewards® is designed to use ENERGY STAR® benchmark ratings and to present tables and graphs that make it easy to compare performance over time, within a specific building and across buildings.

2. Two systems drive our thinking.   “System 1” is fast, intuitive, good at finding patterns, dominant and the source of many of the judgment errors described by Kahneman.   “System 2” is capable of logical argument and statistical reasoning that can avoid logical errors, with training.   Unfortunately System 2 is lazy and slow and usually defers to System 1.

We can work with System 1 and encourage System 2 by the way we present information.  For example, your System 1 can probably find the two unusual buildings in this Energy Stewards’ display of ENERGY STAR ratings.  Then System 2 might wonder if the two buildings have the right reference set before System 1 generates a compelling story of why things are the way they seem.

Which buildings are different in terms of ENERGY STAR scores?

3. Get some help from your friends.  Groups can be better than individuals in terms of holding each other to commitments and to seeing things a little bit differently.  It’s usually easier to see the flaws in a friend’s thinking than our own. And we may not all suffer from the same biases at the same time.

Energy Stewards aims to help people work together to generate good stories of energy management and to develop a reference set of effective experiences.  We’ll keep looking for ways to align our product with the way people actually think and work.

Interested in learning a bit more about Thinking, Fast and Slow?   Here are links to recent reviews in Business Week and The Guardian, in the United Kingdom.

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