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Fast thinker or slow? Your leadership capability depends on it

By Dan Teuton
17 January 2018

In uncertain times, making the right call can be the difference between success and failure, so knowing how we make decisions can be enormously beneficial.


According to Professor Patricia Riddell, a specialist in neuroscience and tutor on Henley Business School’s Advanced Management Practice programme: “We can become fixated on making good decisions, but studies into the neuroscience of decision-making suggest we can over-analyse things.”

Fast versus slow thinking

“When we make decisions based on cost–benefit analyses – associated with ‘slow’ thinking – our brain can process four sources of information simultaneously. If we choose the best sources of information, we’ll probably make the right decision, but if we don’t, we can be led in completely the wrong direction.

“Conversely, ‘fast thinking’ has a much greater capacity for processing information, so our unconscious decision-making is far more effective in reaching the best conclusion.

“Good choices depend more on the information than the process,’ says Riddell, ‘but using your intuition seems to have distinct advantages.

“As a leader, you’ll be wrong sometimes, but you must keep measuring the effectiveness of your decisions. When you have time to assess valid data, slow thinking still outperforms fast thinking, suggesting that it may be a better management approach, while fast thinking suits the complex decisions required in leadership.”

Fast thinking takes practice

Riddell insists that fast thinking is a skill we can develop, but allowing your subconscious to express itself requires time and space, something senior managers rarely give themselves.

“We cover this aspect of leadership on the programme and it invariably has a profound impact.

“Frequently, great ideas come out of the blue when you get rid of the busyness. It may seem unproductive, but the science – and what we see from its application – tells a very different story.”


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