‘Slow thinking’ at BDO

Written by
David Baker

08 Nov 2019

08 Nov 2019 • by David Baker

Three years ago, BDO UK, an accountancy and business-advisory firm, decided to apply a philosophical approach to its business thinking.

As an organisation with a large matrix structure, where complexity was a given, BDO found it needed to create clarity around it was and why it did what it did (the firm’s purpose). With this in mind, managing partner Paul Eagland introduced Daniel Kahneman’s idea of “slow thinking” into the firm. 

Although Kahneman is both an economist and a psychologist, in his Nobel Prize-acceptance speech in 2002, he revealed that he had originally wanted to be a philosopher. His work therefore draws heavily on philosophical thought on rationality, including the idea of challenging our “common sense” and assumptions – which goes as far back as Socrates. 

A slow thinking approach to business: give employees time to think things through

To implement a slow-thinking approach, BDO announced the methodology at its leaders’ conference, giving staff permission to take time to think things through and consider the implications of decisions. It then used slow thinking in workshop sessions that enabled employees to help uncover, and identify with, the firm’s core purpose. The approach is still used today to shape the firm’s five-year business-growth plans and has become part of the BDO vocabulary that all staff recognise. 

How do you make sound long-term decisions in a fast-changing world?

“Business leaders face an interesting philosophical conundrum: how do you make decisions in a fast-changing, ambiguous or impatient world, while at the same time creating a long-term, sustainably profitable business?” asks Eagland. “Slow thinking unlocked something in many people’s minds. They are now able to reflect rather than feeling ‘up against it’ and we find we can still be agile and opportunistic when great moments strike, because we’re thinking slowly and clearly on the long-term stuff.” 

Read: The business of thinking - applying practical philosophy to decision making

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