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Intuition in Decision Making

ChimpI said that I wished I had done promotion panels before, but in many ways this could not have come at a better time. Almost every file I read gives me some ideas and examples (sometimes negative sometimes positive) of what I should do to prepare for my post in Brazil and what I should do when I get there.  Reading file after file and being able to compare various activities, personalities and responses over diverse situations has been an excellent “case study” education.

We did case studies in business school and the method is generally used in most professions for good reason. It provides the benefits of experience w/o having to suffer all the hard knocks it would take to get it yourself. Of course, in many ways it is not as good as personal experience, but it does have some advantages (besides knock avoidance).  

When you read through lots of cases, you can discern patterns. You develop a kind of intuition. Intuition has a mysterious connotation, but it doesn’t have to. Intuition develops as you get familiar with many situations and many patterns.  You cannot always explain why you know something and intuition has an aspect of a feeling, which is why it is seen as mysterious. I don’t think you should rely on intuition alone, if you can gather facts and make distinctions. You should use all available tools to make important decision, but developing a feeling for patterns should be one of the tools. This is wisdom.

Along with intuition comes the capacity to reason by analogy. This is another “mysterious” process that people often cannot quantify. They just see the connections or the similarities.  Many great ideas and successful ventures start off when somebody reasons by analogy. As with intuition, this methods should also be tested and supported by facts and analysis. I call this “due diligence.” I am actually using the term technically incorrectly, but it conveys to me the need to check out assumptions even when you don’t think there is much need to do so. I think it is good to make very clear the nature of the analogy and how the new situation is similar AND different.   

If you have a successful pattern, it is tempting to use it everywhere you can. This is a solution in search of a problem. Give a man a hammer and everything starts to look like a nail. People are often enthusiastic about  intuition because it can mean not having to do the hard work of thinking. Careful analysis can compensate for this enthusiasm.

With these caveats, intuition and reasoning by analogy are very powerful tools that deserve more respect than they sometimes get.    


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