There is nothing magical about intuition

The importance of intuitive decision making in rapidly evolving situations has been proven over and over. Specifically when time is short, risk is high and information is low. Intuition though is not magical. It is not the sixth sense or some other kind of paranormal brain function that is only accessible to the gifted. Intuition is merely a recognition of the the environment that then allows for a higher probability of understanding the immediate future. The key is to ensure you, or your leaders, have developed a mindset highly attuned to, and experienced in, the operating environment. Let me explain.

First I draw your attention to Baylor’s U shape Intuition Model.

Baylor - A U-shaped model of intuition

In every situation your brain maps out the environment, the variables and the influencing factors. Recognition of similar factors, variables and influences allows you to pre-suppose the possible outcomes. An understanding of the possible and or likely outcomes from a situation, enables very quick decision making. Because this decision making cycle is characterised by the lack of a rigorous and observable decision making process, it has developed an aura of mystery.

intuition is domain specific

What is often missed is that intuition is domain specific. Baylor posited that because inexperienced decision makers apply mental maps from different domains, their intuition can actually be quite high. They are often able to see connections and paths obscured to someone more familiar with the environment. However intuitive decision making (sometimes called naturalistic decision making) relies on an individual’s expertise in the domain for good results. Initially decision making involves the learning of a set of rules and this corresponds to the downward progression of available intuition. As mental maps are developed these internalised rules become increasingly complex and abstract until the expert ceases to follow rules but sees and acts on recognised patterns. The expert does not develop a range of options, as is the case in normative decision making, rather they develop a single option that is either accepted, modified or rejected. Additionally the expert will often use incremental decision making (think a little, act a little and evaluate the outcomes).

The key to developing intuition then is the development of memorised mental maps that correspond to the domain. So how good is your memory? Long term memory is generally hidden from the consciousness and relies on cues to be brought to the working memory. It is accepted that complex problem-solving expertise in any area relies on the acquisition of tens of thousands of domain-specific mental maps as they provide context to our perceptual focus. These mental maps inform us what information to pay attention to, what to ignore and how the significant information relates.

So the bad news is that to develop your intuition, you need to develop quantities of domain-specific mental maps, generally through first-hand experience. The good news is that experience is not directly proportional to time. In other words your work experiences count, not your time in the job.


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