Ward Council Thinking, Fast and Slow

At a recent branch council meeting for the Shanghai Branch, one of three branches for foreign passport holders meeting in Shanghai, I was asked to conduct some brief training in my role as a counselor in the District Presidency. In this training, I mingled a little scripture with some of the leading philosophies of men, especially the outstanding thinking of Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and author of one of my favorite books, Thinking Fast and Slow.

I began by discussing how easily experts can be deceived and make poor decisions. I turned to Kahneman’s discussion in Chapter 19, “The Illusion of Understanding,” and Chapter 20, “The Illusion of Validity,” which address the many ways in which we can mistake luck for wisdom and the ways in which experts can be misguided and can falsely rely on their experience and confidence to make poor decisions, falling pray to various cognitive illusions. Kahneman discusses the terrible results obtained by managers of investment funds who often underperform the market, and high rate of misdiagnosis from doctors. My point in discussing these issues was to show why Kahneman warns against trusting our own opinions and why we need what he calls “the outside view” to help us have new perspectives and information to guide decision making. This is one of the reasons why the Lord’s work is done through councils, not just a lone person calling all the shots.

Kahnemann in “The Illusion of Validity” refers to results of individual investors in the stock market, and notes that investors who trade the most tend to do worse, selling good stocks too early and holding on to poor stocks too long in hopes that they will turn around. Interestingly, he cites a paper showing that men tend to be worse investors than women (p. 214), for men tend to act more frequently on useless information they receive, resulting in more bad trades and general underperformance relative to female investors. My own experience is not highly inconsistent with that observation. Sigh.

I related this to the council given in the LDS Handbook of Instructions on ward councils, which tells us that the voice of women needs to be heard in councils, and that women can bring  perspectives that are often significantly different from those of men (this came as a complete shock to me, of course). As Kahneman explains, having access to different perspectives to help us get past our own cognitive illusions is critical for success in decision making, and this part of the inspired power of ward and branch councils.

I told the sisters and the entire group to never be afraid to share divergent opinions. Don’t let the obvious view of the majority keep you quiet, but feel free to share what you see, know, or feel. It may not change the decision, but it may provide the urgently needed outside view that can help the council consider the right information and make a wise decision. Be patient and respect the results, but never hesitate to share your differing viewpoints. And for the rest of the council, never assume your perspective is clear and accurate. Humbly recognize that you may be facing a cognitive illusion and are desperately in need of further information that may come from a lone source. Be open and respect the input from all and seek the input from all. That’s the secret to success in ward and branch councils.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

3 thoughts on “Ward Council Thinking, Fast and Slow

  1. Very good counsel. We needed it when I was on a council and brought an alternate view on an issue, whereupon the Branch President called for a vote! And it was majority rule. I was never so disgusted in my entire life. That branch was later dissolved, thank goodness, and by then we had moved away. Democracy (majority rule) in church councils is not the Lord's way.

  2. … the voice of women needs to be heard … women can bring perspectives that are often significantly different from those of men…. Having access to different perspectives to help us get past our own cognitive illusions is critical for success in decision making….

    Yes, absolutely, though the LDS Church doesn't seem to take this truth seriously enough to instantiate it in its structure. Compare to the Community of Christ, in which women have long served in the priesthood, First Presidency, etc.

    — OK

  3. Great post! Thank you for pointing out the value of listening to different opinions in church contexts as well as business ones. It's worth noting that Einstein's best work was not done alone but with the help of his math-savvy wife who served as his sounding board and apparent collaborator. They divorced later, and he never was as productive again (his second wife wasn't quite the STEM brain, I guess).
    None of us is meant to be alone.

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