Relying on your intuition may be your best decision in times of uncertainty


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:

  1. That appears quickly in consciousness,
  2. Whose underlying reasons we are not fully aware of , and
  3. Is strong enough to act upon

Gut feelings work on:

  1. Simple rules of thumb (a.k.a. heuristic), which take advantage of
  2. Evolved capacities of the brain
  3. 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?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Photo credit: Mike_el Madrileo


  1. Interesting post.

    I tend to follow my gut more and more because I get better results. It can be challenging, however, when I’m working as part of team and one or two members really need that in-depth analysis before making a decision. When my gut tells me which is the best way to go, it can take some time for my brain to kick in and articulate why.

    I’m going to take a look at Gigerezner’s book; it looks interesting.

  2. Laurie, Thanks for the good feedback… it seems natural that teams are made up of people with different needs around decision making. And so, I hope Gigerenzer’s book helps you with articulating your ‘why’.

  3. I too rely on my intuition as it gets to the same place as my brain only faster. like Laurie i can’t always quickly articulate the “why”.

  4. Hi Katy. Nice of you to check in. Good point about the role of intuition when we need to get to some place fast. And, given the number of decisions (big or small) most of us have to make each day, I wonder what percentage of those decisions we make relying on our intuition versus a more detailed analysis?

  5. Asset Protection says

    Great post. This is a very helpful post that all of us must read. We can easily cope in to whatever situation that we have if we have this kind of guide.

  6. Asset Protection says

    Isn’t it possible to make a lot more bad decisions if we rely too much on intuition? Well, I suppose it’s better than overthinking since it’s a great waste of time.

  7. Thanks. Glad you liked it.

  8. I agree… one can rely too much on intuition. Hopefully, furthering our understanding of the decision-making process though gives us another resource draw on in certain situations. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Speak Your Mind