Resilient thinking

Watching slalom skiing over the holidays I was struck by two very different mindsets on display when athletes missed a gate. For most skiers, a missed gate meant the end of their chances in the race, and they stopped before slowly skiing down to the finish.

However, with Marcel Hirscher, something different took place. Highly placed after the first run (slalom skiers get two runs, the second being in reverse order and the combined time deciding the final positions), Hirscher missed a gate and ended his chances of a podium, a top 10 or even top 25 finish. However, undeterred by this setback he walked back up the steep slope to go around the gate correctly and continue on the course. Why?

By the next checkpoint he had lost lots of time but then it started to get interesting. At the next split he had lost no further time, he was going as fast as the leaders and then over the final part of the course he set the fastest split time of all. He was still last in the overall results but in his mind had ‘won’ the last section of the course which he could use as confidence for his next competition.

What was on display here is what I call a resilient mindset. Hirscher was realistic about his situation: ‘I’ve missed a gate and I can’t finish on the podium’ and he was also positive about what he could still achieve: ‘If I continue I can still ski the fastest final section’. So that is what he did.

There are many opportunities for us each day to demonstrate this element of a resilient mindset, we just have to commit to taking them.

Thinking Fast and Slow

There are two 'Up' escalators on a recent journey. One is moving and full with people and the other is empty and stationary. As people arrive at the bottom of the escalators they gravitate to the right hand moving escalator, even though that is further away.

These people’s minds have made a shortcut. Empty, stationary escalator = not in use. But what if we slow down and think a bit more critically.

We are in Zürich airport and this is the main route to departures. How likely is it that the escalator is broken? Not very. And if it was, what would we expect to see? Engineers working to repair it or at the very least an ‘out of order’ notice.

A glance to the left and the bottom of the 'Down' escalator shows a little red light to signal don’t get on. Both 'Up' escalators have a little green light.

I step on to the stationary/empty up escalator. Life is breathed into it and it quickly and quietly accelerates. It turns out that the shortcut thinking was wrong.

It’s a classic case of System 1 and System 2 thinking as set out by Daniel Kahneman in his seminal work ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.

I tell this story because I’ve just finished reading Michael Lewis’ excellent book ‘The Undoing Project’ about Kahneman’s collaboration with Amos Tversky and System 1 and 2 is at the front of my mind right now (if I hadn’t read it recently I would have fallen into the same trap as everybody else!). It’s a cracking good read and I can recommend both books to kick start the year.