Monday, November 18, 2019

Using Intuition in Decision Making

Intuitive Decision Making in Leadership and Management

What is Decision Making?

    A fork in the road, options, and choices all afford us the opportunity to make decisions.  Making decisions, and more importantly, making effective decisions is a staple in leadership.  It is difficult to be a leader or manager and continue to make bad decisions.  It is also true that it is hard to continually make good decisions and not be looked at as a leader.  “Decision making is the process of identifying and choosing alternative courses of action.” “A decision is a choice made from among available alternatives.” (Kinicki et al, 2020) 

A System of Decision Making

    Nobel Prize in economics winner of 2020, Daniel Kahneman authored Thinking, Fast and Slow.  In his book he summarized systems of decision making.  We will be focusing on his first system of decision making, known as the “intuitive and largely unconscious” system.  I recommend his book for a read if you are interested in researching this further and have included the link immediately below.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman 7th (seventh) Impression edition by Kahneman, Daniel(Author) published by Doubleday Canada (2011) [Hardc

Leaders and Managers Making Decisions

    There exists a rational model for decision making, that boasts completely acquiring information, removing emotion from the equation, and coming to the most optimal decision for the organization.  While this is ideal in a perfect world, we often find that this is unrealistic.  We run into problems such as the inability to accurately collect all the information, as well as completely removing our emotions from the situation.  There are many problems and issues here that can hold us back.  Time, money, and values are just three.  Due to this, we look at the way managers make decisions in the real world.

    When making decisions in the real world, in a real organization, managers and leaders turn to a system of non-rational decision making.  While referring to it as non-rational, it may have a negative net effect on us consciously, but all this means is that we are not compiling and analyzing all the information to make the most optimal decision.  We should strive to do this, however, as managers and leaders with deadlines, schedules, and other requirements, it is difficult to do so.

The Satisficing Model

    Herbert Simon, a 1950s economist who received the Nobel Prize described the satisficing model as “managers seeking alternatives until they find one that is satisfactory, not optimal.” (Kinicki et al, 2020)  If we study this, we understand that sometimes there is efficiency in coming to a decision that satisfies the current situation, however, may not be the optimal decision at the time.  There is a level of sacrifice here in that we are not making the most effective decision, but we are making one effective enough.  The trade off is that we are able to then distribute the saved time, money, and other resources to focus on other decisions and tasks that need to be addressed as well.  There may be times that we are able to come closer to making an optimal decision depending on the circumstances, however, there is a large varying degree of middle ground depending on the situation.

    While a lot of organizations and leaders want to believe a real pie in the sky idea that good leaders and managers always make the best, most optimal decisions that they can for their organizations, the truth is that this isn’t always the case.  This is also the case with life in general.  We are often pulled in many different directions, and that results in us not being able to completely analyze all situations and requires us to be able to make a decision that satisfies the current situational goals and necessary outcomes while affording us more time to tackle other problems.  Even in parenting, it is common to shortchange adding up all the nutritional value of baby foods to ensure that the child is getting one hundred percent daily value of all nutrients in lieu of scheduling a visit with the doctor to address a persistent fever.  We are not making a complete sacrifice; however, we are making a determination of what is satisfactory and then moving on.

    Sometimes we shortchange the decision-making process too much.  Situations where we do not give ourselves proper time to analyze even for a satisficing type decision can be referred to as snap situations, where snap decisions are made.  Often, we find ourselves in situations where a quick decision is required and there is no getting around making one.  We cannot allow ourselves to be beat up by these situations, and as I always say, “You win some, you lose some.”  Many times, you will find that a poor decision is better than indecision, especially in leadership.  I would suggest that you try to foresee these decisions so that quick draw decisions are kept to a minimum, as forced quick decisions carry the most risk.

Intuition, the Intuitive Model

    Intuition is known as “going with your gut”, or “Making a choice without the use of conscious thought or logical inference.” (Kinicki et al, 2020) This is a shoot from the hip approach that can be honed to accuracy.  I would describe intuition as the awareness of unconscious self-talk.  Pure intuition carries no knowledge, experience, or expertise in the area where the decision is made and is said to be extremely risky.  In leadership and management, however, we want to be well informed on the topics that we are making intuitive decisions on.  Our experience and expertise in our areas paired with an intuitive approach allows us to make a decision known as a holistic hunch.

    When afforded the opportunity to make a decision that relies on intuition, we should always allow our knowledge in the general area of the decision to play a role in that decision.  This keeps us from shooting in the blind as well as allows us to develop our intuition and increase our chances of using intuition and reaching a close-to-optimum decision.  This takes practice and courage.  Let’s face it, to make a decision in an important or high-pressure setting based on a gut feeling is very bold.  If we continually refrain from using this approach and always take say, a rational approach, our team will quickly notice this lack of intuition and at least subconsciously think it as a mark against our leadership.

1. Recognizing Your Intuition

    The first step at developing our intuitive senses is to be able to accurately identify situations where they should be applied.  We shouldn’t force this search, rather, we should strive to stay mindful in all situations and search our own feelings.  We must be able to recognize when we feel a certain way about something in terms of an innate right-or-wrong.  This is achieved by first finding what just feels wrong.  Everyone has been placed in a situation where everything feels wrong, and your guts are screaming at you to turn and run the other direction.  It is in this place that exists in our mind, but referred to as our guts, that is the platform for intuitive thinking.  Once we recognize applicable situations, we must learn to listen to ourselves, and not only in those situations that tell us to run away.  The most difficult part of developing intuition is knowing when we should strive for something or go for it.  The gut feeling to pursue is usually a much duller sensation than that of the feeling to flee.

2. Using Your Intuition

    Once we can mindfully be aware of when we are communicating with ourselves subconsciously, we are able to use this self-communication to make decisions.  This is powerful because it removes having to use our conscious mental resources to make decisions that are optimum.  This when developed allows us to make optimum decisions with little effort.  A fallacy here is that undeveloped application of intuition is akin to shooting in the dark, and we should seek to develop our intuitive abilities in order to make the best use out of them and take our leadership and management skills to the next level.

    After the initial recognition of intuitive thought, we must extract what we have told ourselves subconsciously.  This is achieved by assessing our feelings about the situation.  With practice it becomes clear, but at first it may just be a feeling that we have to identify through trial and error.  At first it may seem that your intuitive thought is clouded with emotions and other subconscious clutter and that trusting these thoughts will result in very muddy decisions that don’t help much of anyone, much less the organization.

    I recommend at first, we use lower profile situations in order to develop our intuition to a satisficing level before applying it to more important decisions within your life and organization.  This is one of those skills of development that just by acknowledging it gives you a boost in ability to practice it.

3. The Feedback Loop: Did My Intuition Serve Me Well?

    The third step in developing and using your intuition is to then engage in a feedback loop.  This is probably the most important step because this is the step that facilitates development and growth.  We need to recognize that we encountered a situation where our subconscious minds engaged in self-talk that led us to make a decision.  We need to follow this up with how that decision performed for us in order to determine the accuracy of the intuitive gut-feeling. 

    This is important, because if we are making poor decisions based on intuition, we may not be making them on true intuition and instead making them based on other feelings or emotions.  It is as important to recognize that we are making intuitive decisions as much as it is that we do make intuitive decisions, and even more so, because what is the point in constantly shooting in the dark?

The Take Away

    Intuition is a very useful tool to help us as leaders and managers make decisions.  Intuition is subconscious communication within us that analyze problems and produce decisions immediately and without our knowledge.  These decisions and analyses present themselves in the form of “gut-feelings” that persuade us to consciously act or decide.  We can learn to trust our subconscious analytical self and its products as decisions after understanding what they are by remaining mindful of three things; recognizing intuitive situations, actively using your intuition to come to conscious decisions, and then analyzing the results to determine whether your subconscious mind came to a satisfactory conclusion in the form of a decision.  This provides the foundation of developing a powerful skill in leadership.


    Kinicki, Angelo, Williams, Brian K. (2020) Management: a practical introduction, 245-        247 


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