Three Meals with a Nobel Prize Winner

Bob Kulhan
May 17, 2024

Dr. Daniel Kahneman changed the way the world understands human behavior through behavioral economics. I had the opportunity to sit and share a meal with him on three separate occasions, and as much as I valued our in-depth conversations, I was even more inspired by the way this Nobel Prize Winner held himself.

My favorite meal was in Sydney Australia in 2003. Daniel was on a world tour after winning the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics. I was leading Business Improv course at Australian Graduate School of Management, and I was fortunate enough to join Danny, his wife and nine other distinguished guests at the highly acclaimed French-Asian fine dining restaurant Tetsuya’s.

The dinner at Tatsuya’s was in Danny’s honor. Ten of us were escorted to a long, rectangular table in a dimly lit private room. I was seated at the end in the seat some might call “the head of the table.” This was the chair originally designated to Dr. Kahneman, however much to the surprise of our hosts, Danny asked me to sit there as he wished to be seated on the side of the long table, off-center. This move spoke to his desire to not be the center of attention (even at his own party), and it was not at all lost on me. Yet, as much as his seat choice intrigued me, it was his behavior throughout the course of lengthy meal that spoke the most to me.  

Our meal was a 9 course tasting menu served with wine pairings. Each dish of food was impeccably plated and presented to us by individual servers who simultaneously placed each plate in front of each patron in perfect synchronicity. A chef accompanied the servers and described the details of each dish with precision, and a sommelier painted the particulars of each wine pairing. The meal took several hours, and we enjoyed each other’s company, talking, eating, drinking and laughing throughout the night.  

Early in the evening, however, I noticed a trend – every time the conversational spotlight shined on Daniel, he quickly redirected the focus to me. At first, I found this amusing. An imbibing improviser can talk about anything with anyone, anywhere… right? Then, as the wine wore off, I became more curious about this incredibly consistent carom.

Daniel was subtle. He was insistent. He was constant. 

To me this redirection spoke not only of his grace but also his humility.

I learned a lot from Danny Kahneman in our extended dinner discussions. I valued the opportunity to pick his brain about Behavioral Economics –  that was his jam, after all! – which influenced me so greatly that I invented many original Business Improv exercises around his decision-making models.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman passed away March 27, 2024, at the great age of 90 years. Daniel inspired me to dive deeper into the various aspects of the behavioral sciences to unearth the undeniable underpinnings of how Business Improv is used for transformative professional development – science that BI is deeply grounded in today. However more than that, I will always remember Danny Kahneman for his grace and humility.

Dr. Daniel Kahneman

To see how Dr. Kahneman’s work influenced me and learn how to use these skills yourself, please check out BI’s online course, Improvisational Communication.