A Nobel Prize in Economics… and Water Coolers



When I was a kid, my father tried to convince me that the study of economics was fascinating. He failed. My brain shut down at the mere mention of “supply and demand.”

He will be proud to learn that, now as an adult, I’ve read a book on economics.

And that I even liked it.

Thinking Fast and Slow was written by Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel prize in Economic Sciences for his research. In the book, he says that his goal is to change the conversations we have around the water coolers at work. I’m not sure what this has to do with supply and demand, but maybe that’s because I wasn’t listening when Dad talked about it.

Kahneman spends the first half of the book, explaining that we lie to ourselves and don’t know it. He’s not suggesting that we stand around the water cooler calling each other liars, but that we challenge each other’s thinking. Help each other become aware of how we lie to ourselves.

How do we lie to ourselves?

According to Kahneman, when we’re faced with a hard question, one we don’t have a ready answer for, we often answer a different (easier) question. Then we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve answered the original (harder) question.

As I thought about it, I started noticing that he’s right. Other people definitely do that. I could give example after example.

But I don’t, do I? Of course not. Then again… Hmmm. Maybe I do.

If you read this post from a few weeks ago, you’ll see that I did it there. Or tried to. Luckily my inner voice called me on it.

And I did it again not long ago.

It happened when I learned that an acquaintance had lost her partner. He died suddenly. In the space of a few minutes.

I was sad for her. What a shock it must have been.

What would I do if it had been my own husband, I wondered.

That’s a hard question. A very hard question.

Did I answer it?

Nope, I dodged it. Or tried to.

I looked around our office and thought, “Well, it would make decluttering our office easier. All his books could go.”

Silly answer, I know.

Since then, I’ve had several conversations “around the water cooler” and have found a deeper, more honest answer. One of my sons was especially helpful in talking me down off the ledge.

I highly recommend Thinking Fast and Slow.

I absolutely loved the first half.

Unfortunately, Kahneman lost me in the second half. The part where he talks about… well, economics… supply and demand.

Sorry Dad.