12 Ideas That Embody How Strong Towns Advocates Think

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12. Thinking Fast and Slow

Humans are not the rational, deliberative creatures we think we are. Research in psychology demonstrates, again and again, that most of our cognition consists of snap judgments and quick heuristics that, evolutionarily, allowed us to assess threats rapidly and stay alive in a perilous world. Only after the fact do we usually slow down, reason through pros and cons, and communicate to ourselves and others what we’ve done and why we’ve done it.

Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn introduced me to the fascinating book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman describes the two modes of human thinking as System 1 and System 2. System 1 is our “fast” mode, in which we make nearly-unconscious snap decisions and quickly process just enough about our situation—and no more—to do so. System 2 is the rational, analytical mind that so many of us would like to think we’re governed by.

This has implications for persuasion. To be an effective advocate, for Strong Towns or otherwise, you need to understand how to appeal to someone’s System 1—to set them at ease and sell their gut on you as a trustworthy messenger—before System 2 will even kick in and give you the time of day.

It also has implications for community building. Ultimately, it’s part of the recognition of just how little we know, even those of us who think we know a lot.

Cities are the most remarkable of all human inventions, but they are collective inventions. They work best when many people—flawed, impulsive, biased, short-sighted people, just trying to meet their own needs—each play a small hand in co-creating them. And when the many, not the few, have opportunities to do so in meaningful ways.

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