I’ve been taking a peak behind the curtain at what goes on when we use intuitive thinking to arrive at solutions. In the work I do with executives, I’ve noticed not everyone is good at using intuitive thinking skills.
The problem is that now—more than ever—executives don’t have the luxury of lengthy analyses to make decisions. They need to make sense of incomplete data quickly — using intuition.
A key to harnessing intuition is to observe patterns. Patterns include routines for responding, known as “action scripts.” If we see a situation as typical, then we can recognize the typical action to take. We develop hunches about what’s really going on and how we should respond.
Using our intuition, we translate our experiences into judgments and action responses. When intuitive leaders see familiar patterns, their response is usually obvious.
Gary Klein, PhD., author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions at Work (Crown Business, 2004), offers the following diagram to explain the pattern-recognition process behind intuitive decision-making:
Pattern recognition occurs instantaneously, without conscious thought. We make intuitive judgments so quickly that they seem mysterious. Professor Klein’s diagram demonstrates the science behind these judgments.
Situations generate recognizable cues, and patterns trigger typical action responses that, in turn, affect the situation.
The Role of Analysis
Analysis has a proper role as a supporting tool for making intuitive decisions. Not all situations and experiences are the same, obviously. The extent to which we apply previous action scripts or devise new ones depends on our ability to analyze projected consequences.
Professor Klein recommends using “pre-mortems”: discussions that imagine scenarios with various applied actions and consequences. Intuition helps us decide how to react, and analysis ensures our intuition won’t mislead us.