Tag Archives: Gary Klein

Decision making. Noise, intuition and the value of feedback.


By Elisabeth Goodman, 1st February 2017

There is a lot more ‘noise’ in decision making than we might suppose.

The Harvard Business Review has been running some very useful articles on decision making.  The most recent article by Kahneman D. et al, “The cost of inconsistent decision making”, October 2016, p.38, suggests that the incidence of professionals or experts making different decisions on the basis of the same facts and data is higher than we might suppose.  They call this “noise”.

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

HBR article by Kahneman D. et al on noise in decision making

This is different from bias, where people might make a consistently wrong decision based on their prejudices. (I wrote a blog based about this some time ago after reading Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”.)

Kahneman et al suggest that this noise, or variability, in decision making could be quite important in professional settings that require judgement, such as medicine, finance, project management.  Presumably this would also apply to scientific research and development, and in such areas of management as evaluating job performance!

The authors maintain that people assume that they, and their peers, will be able to make good and consistent judgements, and yet this is not the case.

Decision making relies on intuition, as well as facts and data

I was reminded of a series of three blogs that I wrote a few years ago based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”.  To quote an extract from the third blog: intuition “is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in

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which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.”

The September 2016 article on decision making “How to tackle your toughest decisions”, by Badaracco J.L, p.104. suggests five key questions to consider, in order to use judgement effectively.  Badaracco defines judgement as a combination of thought, feelings, experience, imagination and character – so some echoes of Klein’s definition of intuition.

Decision making is enhanced by good feedback

Kahneman et al. remind us that in high skill areas such as playing chess, or driving, we get very rapid and significant feedback on our decisions.  If we make a false move, there are very tangible consequences!

By contrast, decisions made in projects, or in research and development can take quite a long time to play out before we know the outcomes and their implications.

Management decisions such as evaluation of performance, can also result in quite rapid feedback from the individuals concerned, but it may not always be considered in a very constructive way..

Practitioners of Knowledge Management already use a range of techniques to help them and their teams reflect on what they can learn from experience.  This is a form of feedback.  The techniques include short and sharp “After Action Reviews” after significant milestones, and more in-depth “Learning Retrospects” at the end of projects.

Systematic approaches for reducing noise in decision making

Kahneman et al, Klein and Badaracco between them suggest a number of approaches for enhancing decision making.. Their approaches, and some others that I have come across include:

Tapping into different mindsets

The MBTI zigzag model ensures that we use the different information and decision making preferences available to us: ‘sensing’ to review all the facts and data; ‘intuition’ to extrapolate to what might be; ‘thinking’ to consider cause and effect; ‘feeling’ to reference how we feel about alternatives and outcomes.

De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats is another variation of this, and helps a group of people work collaboratively in both generating and then evaluating ideas.

Badaracco’s five suggested questions is yet another variation (with thanks to my colleague Liz Mercer for talking me through these..):

  • Think, as widely as possible and with input from others, about the net, net consequences of all your options.
  • Consider your core obligations to the key people (stakeholders) affected by your decision: what they would think and feel about the consequences.
  • Think about the world as it is – be pragmatic about your chances for success.
  • Consider your values – what do you / your organisation stand for, and how would this decision align with those values.
  • Ask yourself “can we live with this”? Imagine explaining your decision to a friend or partner and what their reaction would be.

Using 4-box and more complex decision matrices

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee's Lean Sigma courses for evaluating decisions.

The 4-box decision matrix used in RiverRhee’s Lean Sigma courses for evaluating potential improvement solutions.

These are visual tools for evaluating alternative options against agreed criteria.  The 4-box matrix is the simplest version.  More complex decision matrices will have more criteria.

Check-lists and carefully formatted questions

This would seem a fairly simple way to document the factors to be considered when making perhaps more routine decisions, ensuring that all the necessary information has been collected and evaluated.

Constructing algorithms

This is Kahneman et al’s main recommendation for reducing ‘noise’ in decision making, after conducting a ‘noise audit’ to find out quite how bad the variability is.  They suggest that it would be possible to construct algorithms fairly simply, by identifying a few (6-8) key variables that are closely linked to the outcome. These could then be combined into a formula, with alternative decisions assigned to the different outcomes.  Sadly the article was missing a simple example to illustrate this approach.

Using Decision making exercises or ‘DMX’ from Klein

These are “an accelerated learning process” for developing individual intuition.  They rely on defining and working through scenarios as a group, so participants can gain quicker and deeper insights from each others expertise.

Kahneman el at suggest something similar: but with people working on a given scenario independently – and then coming together to explore the decisions made and what they can learn from that.

Conclusion

So, there are lots of factors to consider for improved decision making.

You could conduct a “noise audit”: have people make decisions independently to find out how different their conclusions are, and use this as a learning opportunity in its own right or…

….explore alternative approaches for your decision making.

You could use techniques such as “decision making exercises” to enhance people’s intuitive skills.

And you could ensure that you collect feedback and take time to learn about the consequences of your decisions on a more systematic basis.

What will you do?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

Intuition revisited – inter-relationship of intuition and knowledge management (Part 3 of 3 blogs)


There are some interesting inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM)

This blog follows on from part 2: “Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma”, and part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”.  All three blogs are based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”1

Klein explains that intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.  It is something that we must continuously foster and maintain.  Klein describes ways that we can foster intuition in ourselves and in others, and ways in which we can integrate it into our way of working. Several of the approaches that he describes echo knowledge management techniques such as ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

This blog will explore the inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM).

Is intuition ‘tacit’ knowledge?

Klein spends some time defending intuition as something very real and tangible. Neither magical nor mystical, it is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.  We can also help to cultivate it in others through a combination of written instructions (i.e. ‘explicit’ knowledge) and coaching.

This sounds very much like what we KM practitioners call ‘tacit’ knowledge: the knowledge that is “in people’s heads”.  Klein also draws a version of the data – information – knowledge pyramid.  Only, he adds ‘understanding’ and then several bullet points associated with intuition:

  • recognizing patterns,
  • searching for data,
  • building mental models,
  • seeing the stories (KM practitioners like storytelling as well but as a way to  capture and transfer knowledge),
  • adapting,
  • taking an active stance,

before looping back to data etc.

KM practitioners sometimes add ‘wisdom’ to the top of the data  – information – knowledge pyramid.

Using scenario-based exercises to foster intuition

Klein devotes a lot of his book to ‘Decision Making Exercises’ (DMX for short).  This is in effect an accelerated learning process for developing individual intuition, and relies on defining and working through scenarios.

Training or learning professionals will recognize this case study based approach:

  • There is a narrative description of a scenario that has to be resolved with some contextual background
  • There are some simple rules
  • A visual representation
  • It should be easy to play
  • It is best done as a group, with time pressure
  • There is a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the topic and can either apply additional pressure or keep things light

There are also some significant differences from other case study based exercises:

  • The DMX is best developed by the delegates: typically the delegates will work in more than one group, so that they can play each other’s DMX
  • There is no single correct answer
  • An integral part of the exercise is the follow-up discussion and reflection on what decisions were made, why and how

By mixing people who are expert in a topic with those who are less so, these DMXs could accelerate the development of tacit knowledge and intuition.

‘Pre-mortems’, ‘learning before’ and ‘peer assists’

Klein introduces the idea of ‘pre-mortems’ where a team, having completed its plans for a piece of work – a project – then envisages a scenario where they’ve got to the end of the project to find it has been a spectacular failure.  They then work through why that would have happened, enabling them to identify all the things they should have addressed in an open and constructive way.  Supporters of positive thinking and appreciative enquiry might balk at this approach – and opt instead for a scenario of spectacular success!

Nonetheless, pre-mortems are an approach that practitioners of KM could consider adopting, alongside ‘learning before’ or  ‘peer assists’, which differ from the more inward-looking ‘pre-mortems’ in that visiting teams are consulted to see what the resident team can learn from their previous experience in order to identify and mitigate risks or address issues in their projects and plans.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge management and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

 

Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma (Part 2 of 3 blogs)


Intuition has an important role in process improvement

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

However, as Gary Klein(1) points out, the analytical techniques practiced in Lean Six Sigma also have their shortcomings.  A point also often highlighted to me by participants in process improvement workshops or Kaizen events.

Some of the infrastructure created in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement based programmes can also create some real barriers for intuition.

This blog follows on from part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”, to explore the implications of intuition to these aspects of process improvement.

The limits and strengths of intuition and analytical techniques

The potential for using intuition is limited for example where people do not yet have sufficient expertise in an area, or the area is too complex, or where people may have become ‘blinkered’ and so unable to spot important or subtle cues or patterns.

Conversely, people sometimes try to force-fit analytical techniques in situations where others have the expertise to make judgements.  The use of decision matrices, with weighted criteria can be an example of this(2).  And so some alternatives, suggested by Klein are:

  1. Use intuition first when comparing options e.g. ask people for an initial indication of their preferences – so that this can be used as a ‘sanity’ check on outcomes from an analytical approach
  2. Try a strengths vs. weaknesses approach as an alternative to weighted decision criteria
  3. Use mental simulation of how the options might play out to understand them better
  4. Look for ways to simplify the comparisons: there might be some factors that are really not important
  5. Recognise situations where the difference between options is really too small to make a difference and where it would be better to just pick one rather than continue the evaluation

Barriers to intuition created by process improvement programmes

Process improvement programmes encourage the documentation of procedures (standardized ways of working), using metrics to monitor performance, and automating routine or complex analytical tasks.

These can be extremely effective ways to streamline work, ensure that good practices are re-used, identify when timelines, quality or safety and budgets are at risk, and release people to get on with more creative activities.

However, as Klein points out, they can also not only create barriers to people using their intuition, but they can also gradually undermine what intuitive powers people have.

How to use procedures and intuition

Standardized procedures are essential in regulated environments, and invaluable in helping new staff get up to speed quickly, or as a reminder to those who carry out certain tasks infrequently.  They can also help an organisation ensure that everyone benefits from good practices in how to perform processes effectively and efficiently.  However, as Klein points out, people need to use standardized procedures in a way that keeps them alert to what they are doing, so that they can spot unexpected problems, or opportunities to do things differently i.e. fostering their intuition rather than in effect ‘turning it off’.  Such an attitude will foster continuous improvement and this is also how, as I’ve written elsewhere(3), people can maintain a dynamic between standardization and creativity.  Understanding why the procedures are as they are: the context around them, will help with this, so that this should be an integral part of teaching people about procedures.

How to use metrics and intuition

The same is true for metrics: they have a vital role to play in monitoring performance and in alerting people to risk, but too often metrics are collected for their own sake, and without people having a proper understanding of their purpose or of how to interpret them.  Again, if used intelligently and with awareness, people can foster their intuition and not only derive real value from the metrics, but spot situations when the metrics alone are not enough.

Automation and intuition

With some skill in mental mathematics, our intuition will alert us if calculations done on a calculator or in an excel spreadsheet are tens or hundreds of units out from what we would expect.  However there is a risk when routine analytical tasks, or even more complex ones have been relegated to computers that we will be under-rehearsed or have insufficient expertise to spot problems that might arise.  So where processes or parts of processes are selected for automation as a result of process improvement, we need to find ways to continue to maintain expertise and foster intuition, so that automation does indeed continue to act as a support tool rather than the master of our work!

The third blog of this series will be addressing intuition and knowledge management, and ways in which people can actively enhance their intuitive skills.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or…. Why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings.
  3. Elisabeth Goodman (2010) How Lean can bring real benefits to innovation in Pharmaceutical Research Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ, 8th January 2010, http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=1720
  4. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Intuition revisited: how it could be important to a business environment (Part 1 of 3 blogs)


Intuition does have an important role in business

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

One of my blog readers, Deborah Peluso, kindly pointed me to Gary Klein’s 30+ years of work on intuition with the US marines, firefighters, pilots, software trouble-shooters and business leaders.  I have now read his book, ‘The Power of Intuition”1 which is an impressively substantial reference work, and very enlightening.

As Deb said in her comment to my blog: “I realized that intuition is not magical or mystical. What we call intuition is a label for our observed phenomena that is really just a function of expertise, and expertise is something that we can study, elicit, and use in our knowledge management and change work. And decision analysis has its place in helping to check our gut instincts, provided we have the time and resources to use the tools appropriately.”

This blog, together with my next two, will highlight what I have learnt from Gary Klein’s book about the role of intuition in business in general, and in process improvement and knowledge management specifically.

What is intuition and when can it be useful?

Intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.

Intuition supports us in spotting problems, being creative and innovative, adapting and improvising plans, and making decisions.

Taking each of these in turn:

  • Our ability to spot problems depends on the nature of the problem (how quickly it develops, the level of associated risk), our level of alertness to potential problems, what might be going on around us to affect our alertness, and our level of expertise (or intuition).  As with all applications of intuition, it also depends on how much attention we pay to our ‘gut feelings’: our subconscious alerting us to something being wrong before we consciously recognize it.
  • As Klein points out: intuition is tied to past experience, whereas creativity is not.  He suggests that an intuitive approach to creativity ‘transcends’ past experience!  He suggests that teams look for opportunities in difficult situations and how to build on those as a route to creativity.  So: if the goals or needs to be addressed are clear, potential opportunities (or leverage points) identified, and then connections made between the goals and the opportunities that will work with them – then this will be lead to effective innovation.  Klein calls this ‘directed creativity’, and this does sound like the solution identification exercises that we conduct in Kaizen workshops.
  • Whist Klein accepts the conventional use of plans (for example in project management) to coordinate the work of teams, shape our thinking, work out what’s needed, he emphasizes the importance of being able to improvise and adapt, especially when the unpredictable happens, which it invariably will!

I’ll be discussing the relevance of intuition to decision making in my next blog.

Intuition and process improvement (Lean and Six Sigma)

As I’ve discussed in my other blogs, analytical approaches are still absolutely important. But there will be limits and strengths to these approaches, just as there are barriers to and enablers for intuition.

As I’ve suggested before, there are implications for the tools taught in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement generally); for example in using decision matrices, or documenting procedures (and process mapping), in using metrics.

I’ll be discussing this more fully in the second blog of this series of three.

Intuition and knowledge management

What we may under-estimate is that intuition is not something that you either have or don’t have.  We all have it.  The key is in how we develop and use it.  Gary Klein’s book contains some fascinating implications for knowledge management techniques for example ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

I’ll be discussing this in the third blog of this series.

Notes

  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.