Leverage Your Intuition

Have you ever made a decision based on a hunch? I’m sure you can think of a situation where, in the absence of concrete data, you’ve had to rely on intuition to make the call. In management science, this occasional reliance on intuition “has been portrayed as everything from a magical sixth sense to an innate personality trait to an accumulation of experience.”1 Recruiting is a discipline, it seems, which highly rewards innovation in identifying, attracting, and engaging top talent. And there’s no doubt that intuition has a definite place in driving success.

However, it’s fundamentally difficult to measure the impact intuition has on the quality of our decisions. After all, these are decisions we make subconsciously or associatively – sometimes, we rely on intuition without knowing it! On one hand, we praise (experienced) professionals who are able to “pull the trigger” and make tough decisions without all the data – which can certainly tilt the scales of the competitive landscape. On the other hand, disciplines like Six Sigma emphasize process over everything, in order to squeeze variation out of the picture and deliver consistent quality.

So where does that leave those of us who just need to get stuff done? Seth Godin points out a reaction many have had to strict process: “we bristle when we’re asked for our weekly goals sheets, or when the boss wants us to use a database or when the insurance company requires docs to follow data-driven guidelines.”2 As individuals and as organizations, we want to surround ourselves with people and arm ourselves with information necessary to make the best possible decision at any given time. And yet, we know that we simply have to make decisions without complete data, or risk being outmaneuvered by the competition.

While it’s true that experience can sometimes get us results that process cannot, the reverse is also true. Take this example from Seth Godin (I’ve replaced “salesperson” with “recruiter”):

What happens when a star [recruiter] starts tracking her calls, her time spent, her rolodex and her results? Her day isn’t intuitive any longer… just the act of [recruiting] is. The result: dramatic improvements. Measuring, and measuring in public, is a piece of process that can’t help but organize and leverage your intuition.

If process makes you nervous, it’s probably because it threatens your reliance on intuition. Get over it. The best processes leverage your intuition and give it room to thrive.

In conclusion, it’s critically important to bring the right combination of experience and process to bear on a given business problem. Intuition and process are not mutually exclusive. We would do well to understand them as two sides of the same coin, and act accordingly.

1.  Lisa A. Burke, & Monica K. Miller. (1999). Taking the Mystery out of Intuitive Decision Making. The Academy of Management Executive (1993-2005), 13(4), 91-99.
2. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/04/why_are_you_afr.html