“Listen to your heart,” a common phrase when making decisions about life. However, is this advice even logical when making decisions in today’s strategic business world? In life, we are the boss. At work, we have to justify our decisions. It is the preferable norm in organizations to strategically plan before making decisions. Even management schools prefer the strategic model to decision making over the intuitive model. However, intuition cannot be disregarded.
The study of intuitive decision-making is one of the most important new fields in psychology, philosophy, and management. Generally speaking, intuition refers to the ability to sense or know immediately without reasoning; it is a spontaneous insight which enables us to quickly reach conclusions. The part of brain that leaps to snap conclusions is called adaptive unconscious, as explained by Psychologist Timothy D. Wilson in his book, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious. He explains that the human brain toggles back and forth between conscious and unconscious modes of thinking, depending on the situation. A decision to ask a co-worker over for dinner is made consciously because the mind thinks it over. The decision to argue with the same co-worker is made unconsciously because the mind did not have a chance to think it over.
Erik Dane and Michael Pratt in their research suggest that intuiting is the process of intuition. Intuiting involves making holistic associations by recognizing features or patterns. Intuiting is not logical or rational. It is a rapid process, during which the mind makes holistic associations by accessing already learned information stored in the unconscious part of the brain.
Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink, explains this notion of adaptive unconscious as a giant computer that quickly and quietly processes numerous data necessary to keep functioning as human beings. For instance, when you walk out to the street and suddenly see a giant truck approaching you in speed, do you think through all your options? I hope not! Gladwell suggests that the only way that human beings could have survived as species is because of another kind of decision-making apparatus that’s capable of making very quick judgments based on very little information. When we are faced with making a decision quickly and under stress, we use the adaptive unconscious part of the brain.
So does intuition even belong in today’s strategic business world? Don’t we make the best decisions when we take time to carefully plan? Certainly, that’s what we have always been told because today’s society is dedicated to the idea of proper planning. Strategic decision making is an established method in organizations, but it is not always foolproof. Professor of Management Science, Paul C. Nutt, observed in a research that half of the decisions in organizations fail. During the planning process, much time, effort, and money is spent to collect data and analyze solutions, but the outcome is never guaranteed.
Daniel Forbes analyzes works of decision comprehensiveness scholars. In his research, he mentions three reasons which scholars have held accountable for strategy failure: uncertainty, ambiguity, and instability. Uncertainty refers to the probability of an outcome. There are high levels of uncertainty when numerous outcomes are probable. Ambiguity refers to the vagueness during the planning process as a result of incomplete or inaccurate information. Ambiguity is high when there is doubt about the use of accurate, measurable, and reliable information. Finally, continuous change in the internal and external environment hinders the effectiveness of strategy and is referred to as instability. The chances of instability are high when the environment is unstable or rapidly changing. The decision maker is aware of the conditions of the environment in the beginning of the decision-making process, but by the time a conclusion is reached, the environment can be in a different situation. Other drawbacks of strategy are its costs- finance and time. Undoubtedly, strategy has its benefits, but when the benefits are hindered by the presence of high levels of uncertainty, ambiguity, and instability, intuition is an alternative that can get the work done more cost effectively and quickly.
At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Douglas Dean studied the relationship between intuition and business success. He found that eighty percent of successful executives had above average precognitive powers. Then, Weston Agor of the University of Texas in El Paso found that out of the 2,000 managers involved in his study, higher-level managers had the top scores in intuition. Most of these executives first analyzed all the relevant information and data available, but when that wasn’t sufficient, they relied on intuitive approaches to come to a conclusion. Furthermore, Alden Hayashi in his research, When to Trust Your Gut, suggests that several executive-level decisions, including the development of the Dodge Viper and the prime-time launch of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire were intuitive decisions.
Evidently many success stories also claim that intuition should not be disregarded in organizational decision making. Donald Trump in his book, The America We Deserve, claims that he has built his multi-billion dollar empire by using his intuition. In addition, while publicly addressing business women in Chicago, Oprah said, “My business skills have come from being guided by my inner self—my intuition.” Furthermore, Bill Gates also publicly admitted, “Often you have to rely on intuition.”
Success stories of intuition advocates provide evidence that intuition is worth considering in an organizational context. Intuition cannot be willed, but instead happens spontaneously. Sadler-Smith and Shefy’s work suggest, “Developing intuitive awareness is not about making intuition happen, but about understanding intuition, recognizing it, and creating the conditions to allow it to happen.” Intuition is not meant to replace strategic decision-making, but rather to complement it. Intuition is not the answer, but it is an option and it should be further explored in organizations. Therefore, understand intuition and become aware of your intuitive capabilities. Remember that when strategy is not enough, listen to your heart.