As a mediator, I often rely on my intuition as a guide in the heat of conflict. I never really understood how intuition worked though until I read Gerd Gigerenzer’s book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. A superstar in the psychology of decision making, Gigerenzer thinks relying on your gut feelings (a.k.a. intuition or hunch) may be your best decision; especially when thinking of the future, of things that are difficult to predict, and where there is little information.
Gigerenzer is Director of Director of the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin, Germany. He also works with a number of institutions in the United States. His book is very readable, and I was surprised how practical and applicable to organizations his ideas are. I believe his thinking has credo in our time of great change and uncertainty.
What is gut feeling and how does it work
According to Gigerenzer, a gut feeling refers to a judgement:
- That appears quickly in consciousness,
- Whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of , and
- Is strong enough to act upon
Gut feelings work on:
- Simple rules of thumb (a.k.a. heuristic), which take advantage of
- Evolved capacities of the brain
- Rules of thumb are about hitting on the most important information and ignoring the rest; e.g.,
Recognition rule of thumb, if you recognize one object but not the other, then infer that the recognized object has a higher value.
Asset allocation rule of thumb, allocate your assets equally to ‘n’ funds.
Sexual selection (in birds of paradise) rule of thumb, look over a sample of males, and go for the one with the longest tail!
Evolved capacities refers to skills that we have developed through practice. Nature gives humans a capability, and extended practice turns it into a capacity. Without evolved capacities, the simple rule could not do the job; without the rule, the capacities alone could not solve the problem either.
Intuition vs. complex analysis
Complex analysis may be preferable (to intuition):
- when one has to explain the past
- when the future is highly predictable, or
- when there are large amounts of information.
On intuition and collaboration
When I apply the above ideas, reliance on intuition seems a viable strategy when building a collaborative partnership that:
involves a new, unknown partner
- is based around a new idea
- is experimental in nature
- is uncertain as to outcomes
- requires a quick turnaround in terms of time and information
Intuition has long played an important role in collaboration; e.g., Werner Heisenberg (founder of the Uncertainty Principle), in his book about the golden age of physics recalls the major role intuition had on one of the most complex collaborations ever – the development of the atomic bomb. Perhaps intuition is a new mantra for dealing with tomorrow’s (and today’s?) complex collaborations?
What role does intuition play for you in constructing collaborative partnerships? What’s your predominate rule of thumb?
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Photo credit: Mike_el Madrileo