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Dickens to Digital: Founder of the World’s First Pocket-Sized Book Club on the Book that Changed His Mind

Behind every great innovator is a great book
by Caitlin Schiller | Aug 5 2015
In our contributor series, The Spark, we ask founders and leaders in their fields to share one outstanding read that inspired them on their journey.

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September of 1843 introduced people to what would become two beloved reading traditions.

The first was a work of literature, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The second innovation was the actual format in which Dickens’s story arrived, one that would keep adults as anticipatory as children waiting for the click of reindeer hooves on rooftops: serialized reading.

Dickens’s beloved book was released in six staves, or installments, that shaped Christmas traditions as we know them. 172 years later, The Pigeonhole is blending Victorian affinities with digital formats to rework and reinvigorate the way that we read.

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With The Pigeonhole, you can read classics and new, original content in serialized chunks called staves, all embroidered with immersive content made to pull you deep into a story. But it has more to offer than an astonishingly pretty interface and an addictive structure—The Pigeonhole makes reading a social experience beyond a Victorian lady’s wildest dreams. It invites interaction between other readers and authors, letting you create your own digital marginalia, reading circles, and discussions. It’s bringing back the book club in a totally modern way.

So, if you wanted to remake how people read, where would you start? The Pigeonhole’s founder, Jacob Cockroft, started with rethinking thinking. His pick for this edition of The Spark is the new authority on just that: Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Here, Jacob shares his thoughts on the book—uncut and unserialized.

Q: Which book changed your way of thinking, doing business, or living your life?

Jacob Cockroft: The book I always come back to is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It genuinely changed the way I understood how my mind works, and therefore how I understood myself and my relationship to the world. It is one of those books that you really have to take slowly, and a lot of the time makes your brain hurt, but that’s because something profound is going on.

Q: What about it in particular fascinated you?

JC: The book covers cognitive bias, prospect theory (describes how people make risk-based decisions), and happiness. But the basic, and critical point, is that there is a dichotomy between two modes of thought in the brain: the first is fast, instinctive and emotional, and the second is slower, deliberate and logical. And essentially he says the second mode is lazy, and is reluctant to engage, so we base far too much of our decision making on the first mode (he describes this as relying on mental short cuts he calls heuristics).

Kahnemann’s take on heuristics:

To help us make quick judgments, the mind uses shortcuts called “heuristics.”

Often we need to be able to judge a situation very quickly. To help us do this, our minds have developed little shortcuts to help us immediately understand our surroundings. These are called heuristics.

Most of the time, these processes are very helpful, but our minds tend to overuse them. Using them in situations where they aren’t suited can lead us to make mistakes. To get a better understanding of what heuristics are and what mistakes they can lead to, we can examine two of their many types: the substitution heuristic and the availability heuristic.

The substitution heuristic is where we answer an easier question than the one that was actually posed.

Take this question, for example: “That woman is a candidate for sheriff. How successful will she be in office?” We automatically substitute the question we’re supposed to answer with an easier one, like, “Does this woman look like someone who will make a good sheriff?”

This heuristic means that instead of researching the candidate’s background and policies, we merely ask ourselves the far easier question of whether this woman looks like our mental image of a good sheriff. Unfortunately, if the woman does not fit our image of a sheriff, we could reject her – even if she has years of crime-fighting experience and is the best candidate.

Next, there is the availability heuristic, which is where you overestimate the probability of something you hear often or find easy to remember.

For example, strokes cause many more deaths than accidents do, but one study found that 80 percent of respondents considered accidental death more likely. This is because we hear of accidental deaths more in the media, and because they make a stronger impression: we remember horrific accidental deaths more readily than deaths from strokes, and so we may react wrongly to these dangers.

I like the idea that we have to entice our slower, deliberate self to action, but most of the time all we really want to do is shoot from the hip.

Q: Neat! So, how do you apply what you learned in Kahnemann’s book in running Pigeonhole?

JC: It has definitely changed the way I think through decisions, and most practically, my one key thing is that I try to never make an important decision without having at least one night’s sleep on it, or getting away from the office.

I am a big believer in the power of processing thoughts whilst asleep, and I rarely think the same thing about something if I have slept on it. Perspective is very important, and you generally realize that most “critical” issues are not that critical, or actually have a simple solution.

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His thoughts on happiness are also very interesting—observing that the remembering self does not care about the duration of positive or negative experiences, but rather the peak (or valley) of the sensation, and by the way it ends. This overrides what we actually experience. This probably explains why we fail to appreciate the steady progress of an enterprise, and always obsess about specific moments—good or bad.

Q: What’s the #1 reason you’d recommend this one to others?

JC: It changes the way you understand your mind and how you think. Very few other books I’ve read (and I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction)—have had the same level of impact for me.

Interestingly, there is a novel that I would put in a similar category – The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. The psychological themes and emotional intelligence also had a profound effect on how I view people and relationships. It is also an excellent handbook for revenge!

Check out how The Pigeonhole is reworking reading here, or read the 19-minute summary of Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow on Blinkist here (no revenge included).

And just for Blinkist Magazine readers: subscribe to The Pigeonhole with the coupon code “Blinkist” and you’ll get to read a book of your choice, free!

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