April 2, 2024
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Daniel Kahneman, an appreciation from the editor


Just as the pandemic was beginning to arrive in early 2020, I had a chance to visit with Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel laureate in economics who died at age 90 on March 27.

Kahneman was giving the President’s Breakfast lecture at Westmont College and the organizers thought it would be a good idea if I talked to Kahneman and wrote a column to publicize his talk.

It was a humbling experience as Kahneman was both super friendly but also always driving home the point that humans – even a business editor and a bit of a know-it-all – are prone to make mistakes.

I had read his popular book “Thinking Fast & Slow” and “The Undoing Project,” the book about him and his collaborator Daniel Tversky by Michael Lewis. But I was not prepared for the gentle, firm, soft-spoken but dogmatic contradiction that is Daniel Kahneman.

The morning of his talk was fraught with tension – the pandemic was breaking across the country and it would be a matter of a week or two before things shut down. Handshakes were out and elbow bumps were in; the 2020 Westmont breakfast would be the last large leadership gathering in the Tri-Counties for a couple of years. 

What I took away from Kahneman’s visit would help guide the Business Times through four years of disruption – the pandemic, the recovery, staff turnover and then the banking crisis of 2023.

One of them was his keen insight that you can act on intuition but you will only be right some of the time.  For a news person, acting on instinct and responding quickly to events is axiomatic – but in business that is not always the case. Thinking more slowly about financial matters and particularly personnel moves, generally yields better results.  

The second was that making assumptions about what will work is not as good as having evidence for what is working and what is not. Sometimes things are shifting permanently and won’t go back.

At other times we see what looks like a trend but then it reverses and goes back to the mean.

Finally, I learned one thing from Danny by observing how he handled himself during his visit to the South Coast.  Staying focused on your core task – being a great lecturer or a business news publisher – is how you get from point A to point B. His unique ability to focus on a problem or an issue and tune out the distractions is something I will never forget.