Implications of Intuition for Strategic Thinking: Practical Recommendations for Gut Thinkers

Article excerpt



Are good managers intuitive? Do successful managers follow their "gut feelings" when making decisions? There is ample belief based on current literature that intuition can be a powerful component in a successful manager's portfolio of decision-making tools. Whether intuition is an advantage or disadvantage with respect to planning and making complex choices or time-sensitive decisions remains debatable. This paper seeks to strike a balance between what the literature says about intuition and what managers actually do with intuition, augmented by an understanding of strategic thinking.

In the following, we will discuss current ideas about intuition. After a brief review of the traditional theories on decision making, we will present a decision-making model that includes this new perspective of intuition. We will then turn to strategic thinking as a vital managerial activity that involves decision making, and examine how intuition should be used and actually is used by managers in the strategic thinking process. We will close by offering practical recommendations to improve the interaction between intuition and strategic thinking, and by suggesting a creative way to empirically measure that interaction.

Intuition--What We (Think We) Know Now

Intuition seems on everybody's mind. Its increasing popularity is evident through popular press publications like Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, the bestseller by Malcolm Gladwell (2005) that received enormous attention. Intuition: Its Powers and Perils by psychologist David G. Myers (2002) and Educating Intuition by behavioral scientist and decision-making researcher Robin M. Hogarth (2001) are further examples of the recent focus on intuition, plus Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer (2007), director of the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. Why this sudden interest in intuition? We can only speculate that current decision-making models are no longer satisfactory because they can't predict or explain all behaviors. Findings in the field of evolutionary psychology have certainly demonstrated the importance of instinct and intuition; this, in turn, has led to the idea of naturalistic decision making and the recognition-primed decision model (Klein, 1998). People remain curious about how their minds work and what factors affect decision making, so the concept of intuition is receiving a lot of attention.

What is intuition? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines intuition as "quick and ready insight," "immediate apprehension or cognition," and "the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference." A review of the intuition literature reveals two points of agreement for intuition definitions. First, intuition is defined as an unconscious process, and second, it is defined in contrast to rational thought processes. The latter does not imply that nonrational intuition is "irrational," rather, it comes from the gut rather than from deliberate thinking. "A way of 'knowing' spontaneously without the conscious use of logic or analytical reasoning" (Parikh, Neubauer and Lank, 1994) is the definition used in this paper.

Another finding of the literature review is that intuition is often equated with experience. Gary Klein emphasizes intuition's connection with experience and expertise; he considers intuition "... a natural and direct outgrowth of experience," and defines "intuition as the way we translate our experience into action" (Gary Klein, 2003). Similarly, Myers (2002) talks about intuitive expertise and discusses the idea of non-conscious learning. "What you know, but don't know you know, affects you more than you know" (Myers, 2002). If one adheres to the belief that intuition actually grows from experience, and that people build up intuition as they gain experience, then one must believe that intuition can be developed and 'learned', at least to a certain degree. …