Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The rational use of intuition

In the near future I will indulge in an old habit: giving seminars on Management and Intuition. I remember the first time I did that with a colleague. We were curious about the evaluations afterwards. After all, intuition is a slippery subject for managers who usually pride themselves on being rational. We relaxed when we saw the scores, but I was really surprised when I realized that the highest score was on an item I didn't expect at all: practical applicability.
Yes, intuition is immensely practical, though we can misapply it. Enthusiasts think it is a highway to infallible judgement. Well, it isn't.
Intuition is the general label for getting thoughts without knowing how we get them. Rational thinking or, better, intellectual thinking is transparent: we deal with information and with argumentation. We can check that, we can evaluate that. Intuition is immediate. I have often compared our intellect to a plodding, pretty reliable housewife an intuition to a femme fatale: highly attractive, but not too trustworthy. Yet, intellectual analysis also leads often astray and intuition may be spot on - as many men discovered after not listening to their wives.
A blog is no place to expand on how to use intuition, but pointers may be derived from understanding what it is. Intuitive flashes have five sources:
  1. Experience: we often react immediately because we have encountered very many similar situations; also without analysis we may appraise fast and pretty sure what we meet.
  2. Subconscious perception: this is the kind of intuition in which women on the average score higher than men; besides the focus of our attention we register many other weaker signals. Concentration is a virtue, but not overdoing that also is virtue. This is about picking up the non-verbal signals of speakers, grasping the atmosphere of a meeting, etc.
  3. Incubated insight: after fruitlessly pondering and analyzing deeply, we sleep on it, and suddenly the answer pops up. This is the in psychology well-known Aha-Erlebnis.
  4. Subconscious association: this is where intuition usually goes wrong. A man gives us the creeps and we don't know why. He resembles uncle Albert, who was a creep, but we don't realize the resemblance, we just get a bad feeling.
  5. Psychic impressions: whatever they are, they are related to a part of our brain going into the very slow delta-rhythm. Telepathy seems to be in  this zone.
Intuition has also precursors: emergent feelings, instinctive responses.
Intuition may precede rational analysis (this is something we should look into), it may end rational analysis (we are ready to take a decision). Making intuition more explicit and more hygienic (less associations, less quasi-intellectual arguments) helps us to become more rational, not less.

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