Making “Sense” of Intuition and Decision Making
As managers trained or educated to be rational thinkers, we may be wary of combining intuition and decision making. However, academic research into decision making theory indicates there is a sound logic in reconciling the two. This is particularly important when we remember that decision making is rarely a precise, safe, fully informed process. Though not useful in every situation, whererever there is any ambiguity or doubt in our decision making, then there may be a place for intuitive thinking.
An interesting area of development relating to intuition and decision making, is the work on sense making from organizational theorist Karl Weick. Weick’s work relates to our discussion of rational and intuitive perpsectives, particularly the inclination of managers to think rationally about decisions. This despite the fact that these decisions are based as much on what they don’t know as on what they know! In such circumstances there is much to be said for decision making informed by intuition or heuristics. Weick suggests:
“When people create maps of an unknowable, unpredictable world, they face strong temptations towards either over confident knowing or overly cautious doubt. Wisdom consists of an attitude towards one’s beliefs, values, knowledge, and information that resists these temptations through an on-going balance between knowing and doubt”.
“The essence of wisdom is in knowing that one does not know, in the appreciation that knowledge is fallible, in the balance between knowing and doubting.”
Perhaps this is only highlighting what great managers know already. As Bob Sutton suggests:
“the best leaders have the courage to act on what they know right now, and the humility to change their actions when they encounter new evidence. They advocate an ‘attitude of wisdom’. Arguing as if they are right, and listening as if they are wrong.”
Determining which type of decision making approach to adopt is essential for effective decision making. However, perhaps knowing how and when to combine rational and intuitive approaches is essential for effective management.
A valuable final thought on types of decision making is illustrated in this video clip of Malcolm Gladwell. Here he persuasively discusses rational and intuitive decision making. He argues that “decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.”