The Role of Intuition in the Top 15

A few weeks, I recommended employers identify the 15 weekly or monthly decisions made in front-line positions and teaching the process for resolving each to brand-new hires. In response to that post, someone asked how intuition would play a role in that practice. “That’s a great question,” I thought. So, allow me to answer it here.

First, we have to define intuition. Research psychologist and author, Gary Klein defines intuition as “the way we translate our experience into action.” In other words, our brains use pattern recognition to enable us to match situations we have worked through in the past with references for what to do in present situations. The more similar experiences we have had involving a particular scenario, the more confident we become in acting on our intuition when we are faced with that issue again.

The more rehearsal we provide for new hires in implementing these 15 decisions, the faster they will the establish the pattern recognition essential to developing their intuition. You’ll know they are making progress when you hear them say, “This is just like . . .” or “We did this same thing when we . . .” when assessing the scenarios you provide.

The other part of this equation is cultivating the confidence in this intuition to act. The brain works faster unconsciously than we can think consciously. Because this pattern matching can take place in an instant, and without conscious thought, we are generally not aware of how we arrived at an intuitive judgment. We just need to trust it. The fact is, we don’t have to deliberately think through many issues in order to arrive at good decisions. As intuitive decision makers, we have become comfortable relying on the experiences we’ve have gathered over time. We also have to encourage this comfort and confident in new hires.

To explain this phenomenon, you might say, “It’s like getting lost in a new city a number of times. After a while, you begin to understand where the major roads intersect and what landmarks to remember. This is pattern recognition.” According to Klein, effective intuitive decision-makers develop their intuition using four methods:

  • They continually challenge themselves to make tough judgments. This compels them to look for patterns as they seek the best alternatives.
  • They honestly appraise the judgments they make to learn from the consequences. Most will say they learn more from failure than success.
  • They actively work at building up a base of experiences. This means trying new things and stretching outside of their comfort zone.
  • They work at blending intuition with analysis. Both approaches are valid. But most times, significant decisions are a combination of the two.

Developing intuition is not about time. It’s about having repetitive experiences from which the brain begins to recognize patterns. When it comes to supervision, effective managers understand the importance of helping those around them to hone their intuition as soon as they join the organization.

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