By Finn Raben

There are many things about long-distance flights that can be criticized….cramped space, unappetizing food, and poor air….but the one thing it does afford, is time to read – for many, a declining pastime of the next generation!

Returning recently from Tokyo, I started to read “System1: Unlocking Profitable Growth”, recently published by the previously named Brainjuicer trio of John Kearon, Orlando Wood and Tom Ewing – now the founders of System 1 Group. To ‘fess up, John had asked me to read it and provide an initial review, and to have a good read during a 10.5 hour flight was no hardship!

Curiosity and a desire to understand how people work has long been a publicized tenet of the research and insights profession; understanding how people work in order to make societies/governments/companies more efficient is perhaps the less publicized and possibly more important aspect of the profession, as well as the one which permits us to do all of the many other pro-bono or non-profitable projects that frequently grab headlines.

In order to understand how people work, we must understand the role and importance of how people think and decide – and thus the importance of knowing when (and how) System 1 thinking is used, vs System 2. This book articulates that quite nicely, using a series of real-life examples to illustrate the processes; I particularly liked the reference made to Guinness in the chapter on Advertising, and because of my generation, the reference to Hamlet cigars in the Brand Building chapter!!

Now, many might object to the book, and consider it a blatant piece of self-promotion; well, they’re not entirely wrong, and of course, they don’t have to buy the book! More saliently however, we now live in a sharing economy, and this book does share a considerable amount of knowledge and expertise (in an easily digestible format) on how you can build in System 1 thinking into the key company processes of Innovation, Advertising, Brand Building and Shopper Marketing- without ever having to commission the System 1 Group to run a project for you!

Reading is a personal pastime, and personally, I enjoyed reading this book.
I will also recommend it to others, whom I think will value gaining a different perspective on how to increase the success of their business(es).

Finally, a cautionary post-script:
Chapter 1 references Malcolm Gladwell’s efforts to popularize the notion that 10,000 hours of practice separates the expert from the amateur, and as the third pillar on which System 1 thinking is based, ‘Experience’ is an essential element of success. This theory can apply to all disciplines, be it chess, or indeed research. Let no-one under-estimate the impact that a loss of experience will have in any insights function, irrespective of the cost prerogative!

Finn Raben is Director General at ESOMAR. 

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