Making Better Decisions: Intuition or Data?

Decision making is a topic that comes up more and more often and much of my research in the past year has revolved around how the brain affects our ability to make decisions. As a recovering engineer, I have always been a "data guy" who found that analytical data and process provided for the best decisions. My work has also exposed me to a bevy of smart people who have great intuition, and these individuals have the innate ability to perceive decisions that I might never see. Let me share a little of what the experts say has an effect on Decision Making for each of us.

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Kahneman and Tversky have become widely known through Michael Lewis' book "The Undoing Project", a book I received as a Christmas gift last December. I quickly digested this book and moved on to "Thinking Fast and Slow", the book released by Daniel Kahneman that outlines a number of "heuristics" or processes we use to make decisions. I strongly recommend that you pick up and read each of these from cover to cover.

My SHRM network has also put me in touch with Kim Ruyle, a colleague in Florida, whose expertise in this field far exceeds my pedestrian work thus far. Kim has been immersed in the neurosciences area for years and his current and prior work make him a tremendous resource in this area as well as others that discuss the intersection of leadership and neurosciences.

My current reading is from Gary Klein's book, "Streetlights and Shadows". In this book Klein discusses the advantages and disadvantages of intuition and expert thinking in the decision making process and makes a compelling case for decision making that includes both of these areas. The challenge we often have is a lack of adequate time to make decisions, and in these cases a little data coupled with intuition can be the best answer. There is much more to learn, but let me share one of the most common exercises shared in the neurosciences world, the "Linda problem" which describes what is called the "representativeness heuristic":

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations. Please check the most likely alternative below:

  • Linda is a bank teller.
  • Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Kahneman and Tversky's research shows that almost 85 percent of the subjects who read this picked the second alternative. Statistically the first alternative is much more likely. The context of the description leads most of us to perceive that Linda would be likely to be involved in the feminist movement because of her prior interest in other causes. This type of thinking bleeds into most every decision that is made unless we become aware of how our brains can hijack our thinking when we should not allow such.

If you find this interesting, but even more, see the long term value in helping people better guard against letting their minds lead them where we should not go, read these books.

Better yet, some back here or join me at this link to learn more about how we use this type of knowledge to help clients in our work.

I am so thankful for learning more about this field and find the work of Kahneman, Tversky and Klein to be fascinating. The value for each of us in our work and personal lives is immense.