Photo courtesy Jamie Frith available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.
The series of posts on decision making:
- When are decisions consciously made?
- Rational decision making and the curse of dimensionality
- Emotional decision making and the Descartes’ error
- The key ingredient behind successful decision making
- Why best decisions are wrong and what to do about it
Successful people, professionals and experts are able to make reliable and good decisions. They usually do not enumerate all possible options and evaluate them against external criteria. They usually do not contemplate the variety of options either. They rely on their gut feelings but are not taken away by emotions.
Successful people are action orientated and for this they have to make the decisions fast. What is the key ingredient behind their success
Are you the one who freaks out when intuition comes into a play?
Don’t be so. Intuition is not as strange or mystical as you may think. It is truly a daily experience of many successful people, professionals or just plain guys as you and I. What you need is to learn how to make intuition work for you. It is both learnable and teachable process.
Rational decision making has its use when we know all options and are able to define a clear and simple criterion for the optimal choice.
Emotional decision making guides us towards the choices of what we like or emotionally identify with.
Intuitive decision making has the power to combine the best of the worlds, knowledge and feelings, yet thrive on new insights.
Let’s look at the image
When you look at an image, say a mountain scene above, you instantly perceive, interpret and understand what you observe. You do not consciously follow the process of seeing individual pixels one by one or separate blobs of colors in order to understand how they work together and how they optimize some hidden parameters to allow you see what you see.
You directly perceive the scene with its meaning: the mountains, the lake and and the sky. Perhaps you like it or perhaps you don’t. Maybe you feel the emotions from climbing the summit, the marvellous serenity of the mountains or the sense of wonder you experienced. You may sense the inner balance or the vibration of silence. You may taste the salt on your lips…
Analogy and where it leads
Rational decision making is similar to going through individual pixels or their groups and deriving rules to understand the image. It is a bottom-up approach.
Emotional decision making is similar to paying attention to the feelings, noticing the colors, the atmosphere or the sharpness of edges. It is a top-down approach.
Intuitive decision making is similar to perceiving the image as a whole, with the insight of what it is, including the complexity of the colors and textures and emotions. It is a dance of the middle path.
Intuition emerges when you creatively blend rational thoughts and emotions together. It happens in a state of calmness in which you achieve a high level of perception – grasping of the whole picture. You maintain detachment from both emotions and analysis. You think your thoughts and you feel your emotions. You appreciate them, but you become an observer.
You stand in an empty space where you allow the streams of emotions and knowledge come to you for a powerful integration. And there is a spark from the conscious observer to make this powerful integration happen. In a moment. Intuition is your inner knowing.
In the rational approach you understand what you do as you can enumerate steps, procedures, or rules. You work with analysis.
In the emotional approach you feel what to do. You work with feelings.
In the intuitive approach you grasp. You recognize. You see. You sense. You know. You work with insights.
Intuitive decision making is what true experts do. They recognize the patterns of the case, be it a disease, changing conditions on a road while driving, or the next move in a heart surgery, both typicality an anomalies. Thanks to the emotional input (what feels right) they know which patterns are influential and which can be discarded. Having a gut feeling for the possible answers, they will apply these to own mental models and determine the most effective outcome.
Intuition at work: the fast track
The fast track happens when you either have all the knowledge about the problem or you don’t have it but you don’t need it either. It feels instantaneous and it is faster than your ability to observe (the elements of) the process. It may come as inspiration, imagination or a flash of knowing or sudden understanding in the given moment. It is also called upon when there is a high risk or danger at stake.
The challenge is that our rational mind has a strong influence on us. Since the intuitive answer is fast, it usually comes first. If you begin to reason and justify an answer to yourself, it is likely an answer from your rational mind.
A calm state of a mind helps to notice insights, body cues, image flashes and so on. If you sit with a straight spine and focus on abdominal breathing, especially breathing out (2-4x longer than breathing in), you will begin to experience the intuits coming.
Intuition at work: the slow track
Alternatively, you may need to work your intuition out. This happens when the decision requires an integration of partial knowledge and understanding which are not sufficiently processed by you yet. The latter is e.g. true when you think about a scientific phenomenon or look for a solution to a complex problem. Then intuition works by organizing your thoughts under a deep focus. The focus keeps you in an empty space of your mind and encourages fresh, unbiased thoughts.
So what happens is the following.
You are able to perceive the clues of a situation or a context, to feel the atmosphere around the issues involved, to internally observe subtle details without being able to make them explicit. You recognize the patterns but you cannot elaborate the criteria, the algorithm and the optimization process that aids you in doing that.
You simply either directly know or imagine which decision is to be made, or you collect the patterns and evaluate them against a few chosen mental models (derived from experience, analysis and understanding). The final decision is a high-level integration of your knowledge and understanding, and emotional input realized by your self-conscious observer.
In my opinion, intuitive decision making is superior to rational decision making. It integrates multi-modal approaches and multi-sense information.
Intuitive decision making relies on tacit knowledge and pattern recognition built by experience, perception, emotion and insight. It is not fault-free as it strongly relies on perceptual skills, personal experience and understanding. Consequently, different experts may make different decisions in the same circumstances. Nevertheless, there is a clear way how to improve: by gaining more experience and practice.
How to make effective decisions
Since the working of intuition depends on the quality of experience, it may lead to flaw decisions if you are new to a field. Say, good cooks will know which ingredients are going to go together well to bring the desired effect. As a beginner, however, you have no idea how to mix the tastes. You may have no idea how thyme effects the taste of cucumber in a sour cream salad. Would it be a good combination, do you think? 😉
I believe (a few) procedures and rules are necessary for a beginner to start learning. I support rational decision making in the very beginning. Later, you need to learn how to work with intuition. I encourage you to switch to this approach when you have collected some experience.
You will become a professional.
A recipe for effective decisions:
- Internal focus and/or calmness
- Emotional and rational detachment
- Recognition of cues and patterns; selection of a few essential ones (knowledge integrated with emotion)
- Selection of a few alternatives (emotion integrated with knowledge)
- Evaluation of the considered alternatives improve the mental models (rational thought)
- Final solution by choosing the scenario which feels right (emotion)
Intuition is the missing link for making effective decisions. Why? Because your decisions include both rational and emotional components. They are fast, informative and based on the know-how of your experience.
If you are not convinced, start experimenting. You have nothing to lose and the whole world to gain. 🙂
Simply trust your inner knowing and see what happens.
You will rock.