Saturday, May 4, 2013

Q: Why Silence? A: Priming.

I'm a big fan of using silent brainstorming in order to generate ideas as individuals before processing those ideas as a group. "Priming" is yet another reason why using silence is important.

System 1 & System 2.
(Not to be confused with Thing 1 and Thing 2)
I'm currently reading Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" - a behavioural psychology and economics book that describes his research on how our mind thinks. In the book, Kahneman describes the two systems that make up how we think. System one is the unconscious, fast, intuitive, relational thinker. System two is the conscious, slower, lazier, and more logical thinker. For example, when I ask you what 2+2 is, system one jumps in and gives you the answer of 4. When I ask you what 453 * 23 is, system two jumps in to help you calculate the answer.

One of the experiments that Kahneman describes demonstrates how you can 'prime' system one and influence its answers. The experiment asked people to look at one word and then fill in the blank in a subsequent incomplete word. The first word they were shown was either "Eat" or "Wash" and the second incomplete word was "So_p". When shown "Eat", system one's relational thinking kicked in and people more often said "Soup" for the second word. On the other hand, when shown "Wash", system one more often produced the related word "Soap". Showing the first word to the participants 'primed' system one and influenced it to think of a second word that was related to the first.

So, if you start a brainstorming meeting with "What can we do better? My idea is [X].", you have now primed people to think about [X]. However, if you let people generate ideas on their own first you will start with a larger base of ideas to work with. Once people have written down their own ideas [X,Y,Z], saying those ideas out loud will allow system one to find relational words on the whole set rather than just one idea.

Generate ideas in silence, process the ideas out loud.

- Daniel Kahneman's Book: Thinking, Fast and Slow
- Slides and video from my related talk: The Silence of Agile

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