The Development Source

Why You Should be Reading Daniel Kahneman

In proposal development, we often talk about the need to address the customer’s hot buttons and issues in our proposals.  But how many of us address the way in which reviewers of our proposals make decisions?

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a great deal of research in psychology, cognitive science, economics, learning, decision-making, and other fields that should inform the way we design and write proposals.  Daniel Kahneman has been one of the most influential people in psychology who has written about the way we make decisions.  He was the first psychologist to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work in this field.  Kahneman’s finding have important implications for proposal development.

For a clear and enjoyable summary of Kahneman’s work, read his best-selling Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011).  To summarize Kahnemen’s themes, this is what he says about our decision-making processes:

  • Most people use fast and frugal mental processes to make everyday decisions and solve problems because their cognitive resources are limited.
  • Most people make decisions and solve problems with the least amount of effort and information possible.  Good decisions do not always require amassing large amounts of information.
  • We use straightforward mental processes to make decisions because of time pressure, incomplete information, and the inability to calculate consequences.
  • These mental processes usually lead to accurate decisions.

Based on the research of Kahneman and his colleagues, we should design our proposals with the following characteristics to help reviewers evaluate them:

  • Make it easy for reviewers to read and understand.
  • Make it easy for reviewers to gather and process information.
  • Make it easy for reviewers to move through your proposal quickly and with as little effort as possible.
  • Make it easy for reviewers to quickly find and understand the information that interests them.
  • Make sure that all your major themes have solutions, benefits, and proof.
  • Write your Executive Summary for non-technical reviewers.
  • Use good visuals to emphasize your features, benefits, and major themes.

In proposals, as in life, cues and clarity foster recognition and recall.  Good proposals that are easy to evaluate are more likely to be scored higher than great proposals that are difficult to evaluate.

Read Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and learn how to design proposals that take into account the decision-making processes of reviewers.


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