Should managers rely on intuition for decision making?

A recent Harvard Working Knowledge blog post ‘What is the right mix between intuition and analysis?’ Several clear themes characterized responses to this month’s column. Dominant among these was that the best way to reach a decision depends on a number of factors, including the nature of the decision, the nature of the decider, the information available, history, experience, the number of deciders, and so forth.

Nevertheless, several comments reflected an uneasy fondness for a good dose of intuition in the mix. Guy Gould-Davies’ comment was particularly insightful: “The idea of using feeling in the context of decision making makes many people highly uncomfortable which is why intuition gets a bad rap. (It implies) Emotion, lack of discipline and robustness in analysis … lack of control (replicability)”. Pallavi Marathe put it this way: “Careful Decisions is a paradox …. If there is past data available to help predict the future, it may be a good idea to refer to it. But in most cases, the decision maker is posed with a unique challenge.” Vanitha Rangganathan, arguing for the role of intuition in the creative process, commented that “Experience makes us personally wiser …. ‘Wisdom of crowds’ breeds convenient conformity and creativity is often lost in the process.”

At the other end of the intuition-analysis spectrum, R. C. Saxena opined, “I believe intuition ought not to play any part …. Sincere effort to harness all the collective wisdom coupled with a commitment to deliver the Complete Solution ought to be the key.”

Most argued for a process involving intuition based on analysis and experience. Rowland Freeman commented, “A great deal depends on the magnitude of the decision…. The lesser the impact, go with experience and intuition.” As Marlis K. put it, “… the question should not be rational decision making OR intuition, but rather … how to combine both.” David Kendall said, “In the most difficult case of no-time and high-risk, reliance on ‘rational intuition’ may be a preferred way to minimize direct and/or collateral damage if the decision goes wrong.” Luis X. B. Mourao opined that “… while a model helps to diligently collect and analyze relevant data, it only gets you so far.  Add experience and it will get you a step further.”

Some of the most interesting comments raised questions about whether we should instead concentrate on ways to make our own decision-making processes more transparent to others and to ourselves. Edward Hare put it this way: “Openness and honesty are the sunlight that’s needed to make … decision making as effective and efficient as it ought to be ….” This may require a certain amount of self-awareness. Maree Conway said that “Our worldview conditions what we accept and don’t accept as real, and this conditions how we make decisions. Being aware of your worldview and biases is the first step to wise decision making ….” Jeremy Stunt commented that “I have learned that it is helpful to host a ‘conversation’ between my rational/analytical side and my intuitive side.” Phil Clark’s advice provides a useful close: “If you are seeking the perfect solution, you likely are making no decisions and letting life pass you by. That may be the saddest decision anyone makes.” What do you think?

Blogger Jim Heskett suggests there is a compelling argument for decision-making processes that incorporate both gut feelings and analysis. He says achieving this mix involves weighing up a range of factors including the nature of the decision, the nature of the decider, available information, history and experience. But that’s not to say all leaders are completely comfortable with intuition. After inviting comment on his post, Heskett found many professionals are uneasy with their gut feelings. One of the main issues raised was transparency with many suggesting it is difficult for leaders to make their decision-making processes transparent to others and themselves.

What do you think – does intuition play a leading role in your decisions making process? And how do you explain this process to others?

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