Tag Archives: intuition

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.

Super Conscious Thinking: 5 Steps to Access Your Genius


A view of the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

A view of the winter garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

Guest blog by Anne Scott, 24th October 2016

why this blog?

Editorial note by Elisabeth Goodman

I met Anne Scott through David Gurteen’s Knowledge Café and was attracted by her alternative approach to coaching individuals.  As readers of my blog will know, a lot of my work with RiverRhee focuses on introducing tools and ways of thinking to help managers and teams tackle the challenges that they encounter in their day-to-day work.  We do this in our training courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching.

Anne seems to have something quite original to bring to this mix, so I asked her to write a blog that would provide some insights on her approach.

an intuitive consciousness is available to all of us

It was Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind who said the “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers, and meaning makers.”

The only thing we can be certain of is change. Whether we are living in a time of more or less change is immaterial what is important is that we can be comfortable with it, work with it and ultimately welcome it. When we do this we make connections that haven’t been made before and these connections facilitate us to bring something new into being. Then we become one of the ‘different kind’ of people who belong to the future because we have created it.

We are led to believe that genius belongs to an elite. That people like Steve Jobs (1) or Elon Musk (2) are one-offs: that what they do and how they do it is not repeatable but it was Jobs that said “I began to realise that an intuitive understanding and consciousness was more significant than abstract thinking and intellectual logical analysis.” (3)

Whether we believe it or not this kind of consciousness is available to all of us and whether we like it or not it does influence our lives. It is the quiet voice that we hear in meditation, when we choose to be mindful or perhaps unexpectedly when we spontaneously disengage from the cacophony of life. This is the voice of true intuition – what the mind apprehends before rationalising. A voice that we oft times ignore but in hindsight realise it’s truth.

We can all become super conscious thinkers

We all have the faculty and capability to become super conscious thinkers. My invitation to you is to cultivate a super conscious connection to proactively access your own well of unique potential. To embody super conscious thinking cultivate a daily practise. Meditation is the process but the end result is wisdom. Start with 5-10 mins in the morning, somewhere quiet where you can be comfortable and preferably close your eyes. Here are some easy guidelines to follow:

1. Be curious: you don’t have to believe or know to check out what super conscious thinking is about. There is no condition that precludes you from being able to access your genius. Consider what if……what if you were a genius and a super conscious thinker what would life be like then?

2. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings: your thoughts and feelings do exist but they are not a reflection of true reality. They are a reflection of your past experience, your fears, your doubts, a reflection of the world as you learnt to see it. Remember the quiet voice I talked about earlier – well thoughts and feelings are what drown out the quiet voice. Acknowledging them turns down the sound.

3. Choose yourself: this time IS about you, about accessing your gifts, your talents and ultimately finding out what is important to you. It is NOT about planning your day, working out the logistics of your home life or solving the problems of the world.

4. Let go of the need to know: Nothing has to make sense or to be worked out. That is for later on in your day!

5. Connect with your genius: imagine a golden circle or if you are not visual just know it is there and choose to step into it. Remember the first thing that your mind apprehends is the gold nugget of the super conscious thinker. Be with that, you don’t need to know what it is or what it means. Ask yourself what it feels like to be here in your genius. Choose that emotion for the day.

What you will discover

You will discover that super conscious thinking doesn’t just put you in touch with your deepest self but – and this might seem a bit out there – like a sci-fi version of the internet it will connect you to all that is, in a place beyond the space time continuum. From here it is possible to create what really matters to you because you are guided by the engine room of your soul.

References

1. Steve Jobs best known for Apple and Pixar believed in selling dreams and was continually reinventing himself and his company until his death in October 2011

2. Elon Musk founder of SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity was initially ridiculed for his radical ideas for the space, car and solar energy industries. He continues to push the boundaries with his ideas for a Hyperloop transport system between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and for his ultimate dream of colonising Mars

3. In the authorised biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

About the author

Anne is an experienced innovation and technology professional with over 30 years experience. A hallmark of her experience is the early adoption of new technologies such as hand held computers for revenue collection, the first paperless office in the UK and workflow systems for offshore business process outsourcing. Involved in a number of global projects Anne had to lead virtual teams from a variety of vendors challenged by time zone, language and cultural differences. She was compelled to find tools to bring the best of diverse contributions and talents to together and she learnt about the subtle power of coaching to create synergy. Anne now refers to this as the ‘Technology of Superconscious Thinking’ and has evolved a way of bring all her experience together to create end results that can often appear to be impossible. She works with a number of private clients in the UK, US, Singapore and Australia making personal and career transitions and with companies who are willing to innovate and commit to the potential of people in their organisations.

For more information on how to create super consciously email your details to anne@crossingfrontiers.co.uk and Anne will get back to you for a 15 min consultation on how the technology of super consciousness can be applied for you personally or your business.

About the editor

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, a quality assured training provider with Cogent Skills 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.

How learning to draw can make you better at solving problems


By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th August, 2015

Why learn to draw?

Minerve in the Languedoc - an artist's delight!

Minerve in the Languedoc – an artist’s delight!

I’m a Francophile: I read French novels, my current favourites being Fred Vargas’s series featuring the detective Adamsberg. I spend my summer holidays in the Languedoc in the South of France, soaking up the sunshine, delicious fruit and vegetables, dramatic landscapes and ad hoc conversations with the locals. I’ve even started up a French conversation group for our local U3A, which will be kicking off this September.

The latest Fred Vargas book “Temps Glaciaires” has many references to Adamsberg, the self-effacing, daydreaming ‘Commissaire’ of his Paris-based criminal investigation branch, using his drawings to help him work out the current mystery.

Adamsberg’s generally more logical and analytical colleagues either find him intensely frustrating or absolutely revere him. Needless to say the combination of their analytical and fact-finding skills, and his day-dreaming, doodling and pursuit of apparently irrelevant clues invariably enable them to solve their crimes.

Last summer I also began drawing, experiencing a week full of discoveries of my up till then relatively underdeveloped artistic skills. (Cubertou art holidays.) I decided to continue this personal journey this summer with Betty Edwards’ “Drawing on the right side of the brain”. To my astonishment her book referenced the value that the added perceptions gained from drawing can bring to solving problems in business environments! I could not wait to discover more and whether, simultaneously, I might gain more insights into Vargas’s portrayal of Adamsberg.

L-mode and R-mode thinking

We already know that parts of the brain are good at analytical and logical thinking, and others at creative thinking. These used to be referred to as the left and right sides of the brain respectively, at least for right-handed people, and vice versa for left-handed people. The distinction is no longer believed to be so clear cut. Edwards, who has had the benefit of consulting with neuropsychologist, neurobiologist, and Nobel laureate Dr Roger W. Sherry, refers, for convenience, to L-mode and R-mode thinking.

Edwards asserts that learning to draw stimulates and develops R-mode thinking and so is as important to our overall intellectual development as verbal and analytical L-mode skills. Yet our education system tends to focus only on the latter. As a result, many of us have drawing skills that ceased development in our childhood or adolescence, when we became frustrated at not being able to create anything that ‘looked real’. Edwards, who has documented her workshops in editions of her book spanning three decades, believes she can teach even the least confident amongst us to draw. What I’ve learnt from her so far suggests that she is right!

The five basic skills of drawing

Edwards takes her students through five basic skills or perceptions of drawing, skills that I’m part-way through discovering.

Edges define the boundaries between the earth and the sky, the side of a nail on a finger. The contour of one is also the contour of the other, like the connections of jig-saw pieces.

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Contour drawing (edges) of hand

Spaces. Focusing on the spaces in between or around shapes – ‘negative spaces’ – can help us to define and draw, almost effortlessly, the actual shape (‘positive space’) of things. This is the stage of development that I’ve got to so far and, as Edward promises, I’m already getting a real sense of enjoyment from my new skills!

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces - Lac de Ravieges, France

Drawing of a bench using negative spaces – Lac de Ravieges, France

Relationships are about perspective and proportion: perhaps one of the strongest examples of how R-mode perception can overcome the bias of L-mode thinking. One of the strengths of L-mode thinking is in being able to create ‘symbols’ to represent what we know. A sort of short-hand so that we don’t have to think about things from scratch each time. So we know for example that a cube is represented by squares and right angles. All the legs of a chair have the same length. And so on. But of course when we start to actually draw a cube, or the legs of a chair to create the 3-dimensional effect, what the R-mode perceives is something quite different.

The other two skills are perceptions of light and shadow, and perception of the ‘gestalt‘: being able to see the whole as well as the parts.

Drawing of a chair - edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

Drawing of a chair – edges, spaces, and preliminary attempt at relationships, light and shadow!

The relevance of drawing skills to problem solving

I’ve written a few blogs, listed in the notes below, on intuition and problem solving. Our abilities to follow sequential steps, spot patterns and to set up and test theories are powerful tools, but they can also cause us to be biased, to focus on positive evidence, and be reluctant to shift to a new paradigm of thinking.

Adamsberg’s colleagues, without giving too much away, become stuck in a paradigm whilst he keeps on doodling and giving his subconscious (an important R-mode ally) free play.

Edwards suggests that the skills of drawing can give us additional ways to visualise and perceive a problem, as illustrated for instance by one involving a client and a service provider.

The edges can help us to define, for example, whether what the client requires and what the provider supplies fit well together. They might also represent how the cultures or ways of working of the two converge, or diverge; and how closely the finances available and those required are reconciled.

Similarly, the shapes made by any gaps between desired outcomes and current inputs might naturally define how these gaps are to be addressed, and so on with the other three skills of drawing.

I must admit I will need to do some more practising with drawing and R-mode thinking to understand this application more fully.

The five stages of creativity – another L-mode and R-mode model for problem solving

Edwards introduces another model in her penultimate chapter: the five stages of creativity, evolved from the discoveries of Hermann von Helmholtz, Henri Poincare, Jacob Getzels and George Kneller. Edwards suggests that these five stages might benefit from shifts between the two modes of thinking as follows:

First Insight – R-mode leads the realisation that there is a problem to be addressed and what the nature of that problem is

Saturation – L-mode leads the research for all the facts and information that might support the resolution of the problem (this is the bit that Adamsberg’s team supports quite well)

Incubation – R-mode leads the wordless, sub-conscious process of mulling over the problem and how all the facts and information might fit (Adamsberg’s forte). Edwards teaches us ways to ‘turn off’ the L-mode of thinking to make space for the R-mode. It results in a very peaceful ‘being in the zone’ style of meditation that I experienced in last summer’s art holiday as well as whilst working on Edwards’ exercises. Dave Hall’s Idea Centre also has exercises that do this (as referenced in my previous blog Facilitation – some new ideas?).

Illumination – both modes come together in an ‘aha’ of finding the solution: for many the most exciting and enjoyable of the whole creative process

Verification – L-mode led, planning out how the solution to the problem will be put in place

Adamsberg and his team certainly exemplify this five stage approach and how their respective skills support this.

What next?

Is this an area that you have some insights about?

Do you draw? If not, might you consider learning?

Do you play a musical instrument and if so what is the impact of that on L-mode and R-mode thinking?

For my part, I will continue working through Edwards’s book: to build on the excitement of developing my drawing skills, and my exploration of how I can help my clients benefit more fully from my and their R-mode thinking. I know that Dave Hall’s creativity workshops, that I am continuing to attend, will have more to offer in this space too.

Notes…

Here are some of my previous blogs on intuition, left and right brain thinking, and referencing Gary Klein and Malcolm Gladwell, that you might like to look at:

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, 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. 

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 (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

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.