Taking the mystery out of intuitive decision making

Taking the mystery out of intuitive decision making

Taking the mystery out of intuitive decision making


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Academy al Management Executive. 1999. Vol. 13, No.<br />

<strong>Taking</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>mystery</strong> <strong>out</strong> <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong><br />

Lisa A Burke and Monica K. Miller<br />

Executive Overview<br />

Making <strong>decision</strong>s by intuition is increasingly viewed as a viable approach in today's<br />

business environment. Intuition may be beneficial in certain scenarios, and at times may<br />

be <strong>the</strong> primary <strong>decision</strong> approach available. To investigate <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> intuition in<br />

<strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>, we interviewed 60 experienced pr<strong>of</strong>essionals holding significant<br />

positions in major organizations across various industries in <strong>the</strong> U.S. The executives<br />

provided rich descriptive insights ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>. They discussed <strong>the</strong><br />

nature <strong>of</strong> intuition and how it is developed, how <strong>of</strong>ten <strong>the</strong>y use intuition and how <strong>the</strong>y<br />

are prompted to do so, and <strong>the</strong> types <strong>of</strong> workplace situations in which intuition is used.<br />

The interviews were used to develop a descriptive pr<strong>of</strong>ile <strong>of</strong> those using intuition in <strong>the</strong><br />

workplace and to document <strong>the</strong> perceived quality and benefits <strong>of</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

Intuition is not some mystical or magical<br />

thing. It is taking advantage <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> way our<br />

brains are designed to be able to think ab<strong>out</strong><br />

things subconsciously and to bring those<br />

things to <strong>the</strong> forefront when needed. A smart<br />

organization will recognize employees who<br />

have this skill.<br />

—Manager, technical services<br />

At a time <strong>of</strong> rapid and unprecedented change in<br />

<strong>the</strong> business environment, intuition plays an increasingly<br />

significant role in contemporary <strong>decision</strong><br />

strategies. Executives who understand how to<br />

balance <strong>the</strong>ir use <strong>of</strong> intuition and analytic thinking<br />

may be better prepared to lead in this environment.<br />

Much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> research on <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong><br />

<strong>making</strong> is conceptual, and little quantitative or<br />

qualitative research has been done in field settings<br />

to support generalizations.' This qualitative<br />

study <strong>of</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals who have faced a<br />

variety <strong>of</strong> <strong>decision</strong> scenarios investigates a skill<br />

that has been portrayed as everything from a<br />

magical sixth sense to an innate personality trait<br />

to an accumulation <strong>of</strong> experience.^- By clarifying<br />

what intuition is, how it's used, and whe<strong>the</strong>r it<br />

can be trusted, we may help o<strong>the</strong>r pr<strong>of</strong>essionals<br />

make effective <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

91<br />

Experience <strong>of</strong> Pr<strong>of</strong>essionals<br />

We conducted in-depth, semi-structured telephone<br />

interviews with 60 pr<strong>of</strong>essionals across various industries<br />

and geographic locations in <strong>the</strong> United<br />

States. {See Appendix A.) These individuals were<br />

responsible for significant project or program development,<br />

management, or implementation in<br />

medium-to-large organizational settings, and each<br />

had at least 10 years <strong>of</strong> total work experience. Among<br />

those interviewed were a director <strong>of</strong> executive development,<br />

a manager <strong>of</strong> technical services, a staff engineer,<br />

a director <strong>of</strong> internal auditing, a nurse, a vice<br />

president <strong>of</strong> marketing and advertising, a police<br />

records supervisor, and a human resource administrator.<br />

Practitioner Descriptions<br />

Our first question dealt with defining intuition,<br />

which researchers have defined in different ways<br />

and used interchangeably with o<strong>the</strong>r constructs.<br />

(See Appendix B.) Table 1 summarizes <strong>the</strong> frequency<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> responses to this question and provides<br />

sample comments from participants.<br />

• Experienced-based <strong>decision</strong>s. Fifty-six percent<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> interviewees said <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s were<br />

based on experience. Accumulated successes<br />

and failures, in work and in personal life, formed<br />

a set <strong>of</strong> experiences on which <strong>the</strong>y drew in par-

92 Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Executive November<br />

Table 1<br />

"What does it mean to make <strong>decision</strong>s using your intuition?'<br />

Response Themes and Examples <strong>of</strong> Participants' Comments Percent oi Participants<br />

ExpeTience-based <strong>decision</strong>s: 56<br />

Experience-based <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> is like a central processing unit. Individuals look<br />

through <strong>the</strong>se experiences in <strong>the</strong>ir central processing unit and make <strong>decision</strong>s based on <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

past experiences.—Manager, mass support customer service, communication<br />

Af/ecf-in ifiafed <strong>decision</strong>s based on feelings and emotions: 40<br />

Sometimes I've had a strange feeling that something ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>the</strong> claim isn't quite right and<br />

<strong>the</strong>n I dig for more information and lind that <strong>the</strong> facts weren't absolutely accurate as reported<br />

to me.—Manager, worker compensation and risk management, public administration<br />

Cognitive-based <strong>decision</strong>s applying skills, knowledge, and training: 23<br />

The sum total <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> experiences that you have had in life plus business school.—^Manager,<br />

flight test support, spaceflight/aerospace<br />

Subconscious mental processing: 11<br />

My subconscious mind has data that can lead <strong>the</strong> conscious mind in certain directions. It<br />

helps lead me to Ihe path to make <strong>decision</strong>s when I don't have iniormation right at my<br />

fingertips.—Technical rate advisor, space flight/aerospace<br />

Decisions based on personal or company values or ethics: 10<br />

Everything seems to center around an ethical sense or moral obligation to <strong>the</strong> business or<br />

customer. There's no book or manual to tell you how to do this. It comes from within.—Design<br />

support analyst, transportation<br />

Note: Percentages total more than 100 as some participants stated multiple facets <strong>of</strong> intuition.<br />

ticular situations. This concept <strong>of</strong> intuition upholds<br />

some concepts recently put forth in <strong>the</strong><br />

academic literature, and suggests that intuition<br />

resembles a mental map or schema generated<br />

from years <strong>of</strong> practice.^<br />

Affect-initiated <strong>decision</strong>s. Forty percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

subjects said intuition is based on a person's<br />

feelings or emotions when presented with information<br />

in a <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> scenario. This<br />

characterization is consistent with <strong>the</strong> lay interpretation<br />

<strong>of</strong> intuition as a gut feeling, and has<br />

been supported by research that suggests emotion<br />

is a central element in <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>.''<br />

Cognitive-based <strong>decision</strong>s. Some participants<br />

also characterized intuition as based on knowledge<br />

and skills learned through training seminars<br />

and textbooks. The methods for streng<strong>the</strong>ning<br />

<strong>intuitive</strong> skills that were mentioned,<br />

including workshops, courses, and books, have<br />

been noted in <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> literature.^<br />

Subconscious mental processing. O<strong>the</strong>rs described<br />

<strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s as a subconscious<br />

mental processing that automatically happens<br />

in <strong>the</strong> background. Because this view <strong>of</strong> intuition<br />

is reported in research,^ we asked participants<br />

to rate <strong>the</strong> difficulty <strong>of</strong> our questions on a scale<br />

<strong>of</strong> 1 to 5 (1 being extremely easy, 5 being extremely<br />

difficult). Since <strong>the</strong> average ranking was<br />

2.5, it appeared that <strong>the</strong> topic <strong>of</strong> intuition was not<br />

as enigmatic as previously portrayed, even<br />

though understanding <strong>the</strong> process <strong>of</strong> using intuition<br />

may well be.<br />

• Value-based <strong>decision</strong>s. A few participants suggested<br />

that intuition involves some element <strong>of</strong><br />

personal introspection by <strong>decision</strong> makers to<br />

generate a <strong>decision</strong> that is compatible ei<strong>the</strong>r<br />

with <strong>the</strong>ir own moral codes or with <strong>the</strong>ir companies'<br />

cultures. Prior empirical work supports a<br />

relationship between intuition and a concern<br />

with human values.'' For example, in our study, a<br />

few respondents referred to <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong><br />

<strong>making</strong> as attempts to make a correct, acceptable,<br />

or ethical <strong>decision</strong>.<br />

No one in our group <strong>of</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals viewed intuition<br />

as a paranormal power or a personality trait,<br />

which may help us to understand at least what intuition<br />

is not. Never<strong>the</strong>less, more than half represented<br />

intuition as distilled experience and an affective response.<br />

Thus, intuition may be thought <strong>of</strong> as a cognitive<br />

conclusion based on a <strong>decision</strong> maker's previous<br />

experiences and emotional inputs.<br />

How Intuitive Decision Making Skills are<br />

Developed<br />

Forty-two percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> managers interviewed<br />

said <strong>the</strong>y learned or developed <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>intuitive</strong> skills

1999 BurJre and Miller 93<br />

Table 2<br />

Samples <strong>of</strong> Participants' Comments<br />

Deveioping <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> skills:<br />

I was put in a situation and didn't have enough time to collect all <strong>the</strong> data I needed. I had no choice but to go ahead and make<br />

a <strong>decision</strong>. That has been repeated so many times as a manager that I have learned to trust my instincts because I have seen.<br />

time after time, that I can make a <strong>decision</strong> with limited data and still be able to say that it was a good <strong>decision</strong>.—Manager,<br />

technical services, space flight/aerospace<br />

Prompting intuition:<br />

Eye contact and body language play a good part in that <strong>the</strong> volume <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> voice <strong>of</strong> a particular person and how <strong>the</strong>y came<br />

ab<strong>out</strong> talking to you are important.—Manager, area engineering and facilities, space flight/aerospace<br />

Most <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> time I'm driving, walking <strong>the</strong> dog, or taking a shower, not concentrating on <strong>the</strong> task. My mind is in neutral. My<br />

intuition ends up being a catalyst to go look for data.—Director, executive development, manufacturing<br />

Situations calling for intuition:<br />

A lot <strong>of</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s are made based on what <strong>the</strong> patient looks like. We may not know exactly what is going on, but you know<br />

inside that something is <strong>the</strong> matter and act upon that. That kind <strong>of</strong> knowledge, that something is going to happen, occurs<br />

frequently.—Clinical Coordinator, intensive care, services<br />

Sometimes things don't feel right. People ask questions or <strong>the</strong>y bring a procedure to look at and something really doesn't leel<br />

right. It's a learned ability to sense that something is wrong.—Assessor, public administration<br />

In uncertain situations where <strong>the</strong> answer is not clear or <strong>the</strong> problem is not well-defined, I try to draw on past experience in how<br />

I dealt with things before—does it stink or does it feel right?—Director, internal auditing, services<br />

Who's using intuition at work?<br />

There are a lot <strong>of</strong> good old boy systems in this environment, and so women seem to be more factual in <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

<strong>decision</strong>s.—Computer staff s<strong>of</strong>tware engineer, space ilight/aerospace<br />

I think women are more detail-oriented and data-driven in business, although more emotional <strong>out</strong>side <strong>of</strong> business.—Director,<br />

internal auditing, services<br />

Practical implications:<br />

Every <strong>decision</strong> is a combination <strong>of</strong> deduction and intuition. I believe that intuition isn't particularly useful all by itself. I<br />

suppose you could run into managers who believe intuition means pulling an answer <strong>out</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> air and having that answer<br />

work, but I don't believe that is possible. I don't think intuition can operate unless <strong>the</strong>re is data available to you that you can<br />

process and combine with past experience and also with some data-driven analysis. Training and experience are <strong>the</strong> fuel, and<br />

<strong>the</strong>n intuition and deduction are <strong>the</strong> engine. You put those two toge<strong>the</strong>r and you end up being able to move forward.—Manager,<br />

technical services, space flight/aerospace<br />

through experience. (See Table 2.) These participants<br />

said <strong>the</strong>y developed an experiential database<br />

that fed <strong>the</strong>ir intuition. O<strong>the</strong>rs said <strong>the</strong>y developed<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir <strong>intuitive</strong> skills by repeatedly using<br />

<strong>the</strong>m, or that education and training helped <strong>the</strong>m<br />

to learn and develop intuition.<br />

Some interviewees observed mentors, role models,<br />

and supervisors and worked with diverse<br />

groups <strong>of</strong> people to learn ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong><br />

styles. In fact, researchers have suggested that<br />

intuition can be cultivated by close affiliation with<br />

a role model who demonstrates <strong>intuitive</strong> qualities.^<br />

Employing Intuition in <strong>the</strong> Workplace<br />

Frequency <strong>of</strong> use<br />

Asked whe<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong>y always, <strong>of</strong>ten, sometimes, seldom,<br />

or rarely used intuition in <strong>the</strong> workplace, 47<br />

percent <strong>of</strong> our sample answered <strong>of</strong>ten, 30 percent<br />

sometimes, 12 percent always, seven percent seldom,<br />

and three percent rarely. Intuition plays a<br />

fairly significant role in <strong>the</strong>se <strong>decision</strong> makers'<br />

daily work life, and <strong>the</strong> overwhelming majority <strong>of</strong><br />

participants use intuition to some degree in <strong>making</strong><br />

workplace <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

Prompting infuifion<br />

Asked whe<strong>the</strong>r any specific physical or emotional<br />

signals prompt individuals to employ <strong>the</strong>ir intuition,<br />

<strong>the</strong> vast majority <strong>of</strong> respondents answered<br />

no. However, ab<strong>out</strong> 28 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sample engaged<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir intuition based on receiving some type<br />

<strong>of</strong> physical nonverbal signal, including eye con-<br />

Thus, intuition may be thought <strong>of</strong> as a<br />

cognitive conclusion based on a <strong>decision</strong><br />

maker's previous experiences and<br />

emotional inputs.<br />

tact and such facial expressions as smiles, frowns,<br />

a raised eyebrow, or a raised voice. A few suggested<br />

that intuition automatically kicked in while<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir conscious thought processes were disengaged.

94 Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Executive November<br />

The majority <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals talked ab<strong>out</strong><br />

invoking intuition in response to situations ra<strong>the</strong>r<br />

than to internal factors. For example, if a situation<br />

had no predetermined guidelines or rules to follow<br />

or if <strong>the</strong> objective data did not seem correct, participants<br />

said <strong>the</strong>y would look to <strong>the</strong>ir intuition for<br />

guidance. However, some participants pr<strong>of</strong>essed<br />

knowing, feeling, believing, or recollecting something<br />

that prompted <strong>the</strong>ir intuition. For example,<br />

some said personal value systems signaled something<br />

was wrong or was headed in <strong>the</strong> wrong direction.<br />

Situations caiJing for infuifion<br />

Forty percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals used intuition<br />

to make personnel, or people-related, <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

Such <strong>decision</strong>s included interviewing, hiring,<br />

training, scheduling, performance appraisal, harassment<br />

complaints, patient care, and safety<br />

issues. Participants also reported employing intuition<br />

when <strong>decision</strong>s needed to be made<br />

quickly or unexpectedly because potential costs<br />

were associated with delays. O<strong>the</strong>r participants<br />

responded that <strong>the</strong>y used intuition when uncertainty<br />

pervaded such novel situations as a firsttime<br />

restructuring or reorganization and in some<br />

financial issues, such as formulating budgets,<br />

estimating prices, and selecting investments.<br />

Fur<strong>the</strong>rmore, situations lacking explicit cues<br />

were identified as appropriate for <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

skills, such as when policies needed to be interpreted,<br />

requirements were absent, or data were<br />

insufficient.<br />

Almost all respondents (91.5 percent) said that<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had combined intuition with data analysis in<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir history <strong>of</strong> workplace <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>, employing<br />

intuition in concert with deductive processes.<br />

Research supports this notion <strong>of</strong> combining<br />

intuition with intellectual and cognitive skills^ and<br />

suggests that <strong>the</strong> problems faced will likely determine<br />

<strong>the</strong> mix <strong>of</strong> skills to be applied.'° For example,<br />

intuition might be used to fill in <strong>the</strong> blanks when<br />

quantitative data are lacking in strategic business<br />

<strong>decision</strong>s, such as new product planning, or in<br />

cases <strong>of</strong> extreme information overload." Given <strong>the</strong><br />

explosion <strong>of</strong> information confronting <strong>decision</strong> makers,<br />

<strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> may become, paradoxically,<br />

even more pertinent.<br />

Who's using intuition at work?<br />

Asked ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>the</strong> types <strong>of</strong> people <strong>the</strong>y had witnessed<br />

using intuition at work and what, if anything,<br />

<strong>the</strong>y had in common, <strong>the</strong> majority <strong>of</strong> respondents<br />

agreed on a few common traits based on<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir observation <strong>of</strong> specific <strong>decision</strong> processes,<br />

explanations <strong>the</strong>y had received from <strong>decision</strong><br />

makers, or <strong>the</strong> nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s. The variables<br />

reported included years <strong>of</strong> experience, level<br />

in <strong>the</strong> organization, and age. Employees who have<br />

more experience, who are older, or who hold managerial<br />

positions tend to use <strong>the</strong>ir intuition more.<br />

Indeed, researchers claim that upper-level executives<br />

need to apply intuition more than o<strong>the</strong>rs because<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir need to see <strong>the</strong> bigger picture, to<br />

address conceptual ra<strong>the</strong>r than technical matters,<br />

and to deal with long-term ra<strong>the</strong>r than short-term<br />

time horizons.'2 Our subjects said managers who<br />

effectively employ intuition in <strong>the</strong> workplace are<br />

confident and comfortable, open-minded and flexible,<br />

experienced, willing to take risks, fair and<br />

unbiased, reflective and insightful, knowledgeable,<br />

and creative. Although many writers have<br />

reported women to be more <strong>intuitive</strong>,'^ nearly 80<br />

percent <strong>of</strong> our interviewees did not cite gender<br />

when listing people <strong>the</strong>y had witnessed using intuition.<br />

Women in male-dominated workplaces<br />

may wish to appear analytical ra<strong>the</strong>r than emotional<br />

in <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>, or <strong>the</strong>y may tend to<br />

employ <strong>the</strong>ir intuition less at work than in nonpr<strong>of</strong>essional<br />

situations. Never<strong>the</strong>less, our findings<br />

may call into question traditional gender-based<br />

assumptions ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> styles in <strong>the</strong><br />

workplace.'•*<br />

Quality and O<strong>the</strong>r Benefits <strong>of</strong> Intuitive Decisions<br />

Little research has been done on <strong>the</strong> ultimate<br />

quality <strong>of</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong>ly-driven <strong>decision</strong>s. We asked<br />

practitioners to rate <strong>the</strong> quality <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

<strong>decision</strong>s <strong>the</strong>y had made and <strong>the</strong>n categorized<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir open-ended responses.<br />

Two-thirds <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> respondents felt that intuition<br />

led to better <strong>decision</strong>s. However, 12 percent reported<br />

no effect on <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>decision</strong> quality ei<strong>the</strong>r<br />

way, nine percent said it depended on <strong>the</strong> situation,<br />

while five percent felt it had a mixed positive<br />

and negative impact. Finally, two individuals said<br />

intuition had reduced <strong>the</strong> quality <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

While most participants regarded <strong>the</strong> effect<br />

<strong>of</strong> intuition on <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> favorably, our findings<br />

do not suggest that <strong>the</strong>y were intensely confident<br />

in <strong>the</strong>ir intuitions, as has been found in<br />

some research.'^ Some interviewees noted, for example,<br />

that mixed effects can result from situational<br />

variables, or that memory can distort <strong>decision</strong>s.<br />

As one interviewee stated: "If your<br />

recollection and experiences are wrong, <strong>the</strong>n intuition<br />

is bad."<br />

But because many interviewees suggested that<br />

intuition had led <strong>the</strong>m to make better <strong>decision</strong>s.

1999 Burke and Millei 95<br />

we explored <strong>the</strong> specific benefits <strong>the</strong>y associated<br />

with <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s. As detailed in Table 3,<br />

our sample <strong>of</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals <strong>out</strong>lined various<br />

benefits that can be clustered into four broader<br />

categories.<br />

• Expedites <strong>decision</strong>s. Many participants felt a direct<br />

benefit <strong>of</strong> intuition is that it speeds <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong><br />

process. Put simply, by reducing<br />

<strong>the</strong> amount <strong>of</strong> data required, <strong>the</strong>y experienced a<br />

faster <strong>decision</strong> process, as measured by time.<br />

• Improves ultimate <strong>decision</strong>. Some participants<br />

reported benefits associated with intuition as a<br />

result <strong>of</strong> improved <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> <strong>out</strong>comes.<br />

Examples included a fairer <strong>out</strong>come, a higher<br />

quality product, and enhanced customer satisfaction.<br />

• Facilitates personal development. A few respondents<br />

saw intuition as having certain personal<br />

benefits—a skill which helped <strong>the</strong>m develop a<br />

full set <strong>of</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essional skills or provided <strong>the</strong>m<br />

with a certain element <strong>of</strong> power.<br />

• Promotes <strong>decision</strong>s compatible with company<br />

culture. O<strong>the</strong>r study participants claimed intuition<br />

helped <strong>the</strong>m make <strong>decision</strong>s that were consistent<br />

with <strong>the</strong>ir company's culture and values.<br />

Finally, one participant declared that <strong>the</strong>re were no<br />

benefits to using intuition in <strong>the</strong> workplace. This<br />

quality control manager suggested that intuition can<br />

"get you into trouble" when lacking <strong>the</strong> necessary<br />

data to measure accuracy. For this individual, objective<br />

data were demanded by management to back<br />

up his <strong>decision</strong>s. This response points to <strong>the</strong> limitations<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>making</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong>ly-based <strong>decision</strong>s in <strong>the</strong><br />

wrong situations or at <strong>the</strong> expense <strong>of</strong> data collection<br />

and analysis.<br />

Overcoming a Bad Reputation<br />

Intuitive <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> has had a bad reputation,<br />

<strong>the</strong> result <strong>of</strong> a prevailing lack <strong>of</strong> understanding,<br />

unfounded generalizations, and varying<br />

interpretations presented in <strong>the</strong> research<br />

literature. Future research should identify <strong>the</strong><br />

specific situations in which intuition works best.<br />

Particular attention should be paid to <strong>decision</strong><br />

type, <strong>the</strong> demographics <strong>of</strong> a firm's workforce and<br />

management team, <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong> maker's pr<strong>of</strong>ession<br />

or industry, and <strong>the</strong> nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> corporate<br />

culture. As additional information is ga<strong>the</strong>red<br />

regarding <strong>the</strong> role <strong>of</strong> such contingency factors,<br />

executives will be in a better position to understand,<br />

support, and reinforce <strong>the</strong> selective and<br />

appropriate use <strong>of</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> in<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir organizations.<br />

Table 3<br />

Benefits <strong>of</strong> Intuition in Workplace Decision<br />

Making<br />

Benefits <strong>of</strong> Intuition<br />

Expedites <strong>decision</strong> mating.-<br />

-leads to quicker <strong>decision</strong>s<br />

-enables <strong>decision</strong>s with<strong>out</strong> all <strong>the</strong> data<br />

-eventually leads to financial cost savings<br />

-gets <strong>the</strong> job done<br />

-makes it easier to reach goals<br />

-helps to avoid analysis paralysis<br />

-starts process <strong>of</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong><br />

-helps adapt to flexible, changing<br />

environment<br />

Improves <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong> in some way:<br />

-provides a check and balance<br />

-allows fairness in dealing with people<br />

-leads to a higher quality product<br />

-avoids baving to rework <strong>the</strong> <strong>decision</strong><br />

-helps to focus on area needing attention<br />

-improves customer satisfaction<br />

-prevents negative <strong>out</strong>comes<br />

-causes one to pay more attention<br />

Facilitates personal development:<br />

-develops iull tool set<br />

-gives one more power<br />

-provides opportunity to grow<br />

-improves one's instincts<br />

-helps to apply one's experiences<br />

-allows recognition for positive risk taking<br />

Promotes <strong>decision</strong>s compatible with culture:<br />

Number <strong>of</strong><br />

Participants<br />

34 (57%)<br />

15<br />

7<br />

4<br />

3<br />

2<br />

1<br />

1<br />

1<br />

18 m%)<br />

6<br />

3<br />

a 2<br />

2<br />

1<br />

1<br />

1<br />

11(18%)<br />

4<br />

3<br />

I<br />

1<br />

1<br />

1<br />

6(10%)<br />

Note: Percentages total more than 100 percent as some participants<br />

stated multiple benefits.<br />

Making Use <strong>of</strong> Intuition<br />

U.S. companies reportedly use good <strong>decision</strong><br />

skills ab<strong>out</strong> 12 percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> time."* Prior research<br />

suggests that many adults have not developed<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir intuition to any significant extent and that<br />

managers are <strong>of</strong>ten trained to disregard and mistrust<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir judgment.''' Increased organizational<br />

and employee awareness <strong>of</strong> and practice with integrating<br />

<strong>intuitive</strong> skills into <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> are<br />

essential.<br />

Our practitioners <strong>of</strong>fered several suggestions for<br />

helping managers hone <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>intuitive</strong> skills, advancing<br />

<strong>the</strong> idea that <strong>intuitive</strong> skills are not <strong>the</strong><br />

rarefied talent <strong>of</strong> a privileged few. Given that <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

<strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> skills may be dormant in<br />

some employees,'^ such practical methods may<br />

prove beneficial, and should be explored.<br />

Managers should:<br />

• be more attentive to <strong>the</strong> overall <strong>decision</strong> process;<br />

• challenge <strong>decision</strong>s when <strong>the</strong>y feel or sense <strong>the</strong><br />

need to do so;

96 Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Executive November<br />

• reflect on past <strong>decision</strong>s and <strong>the</strong> role that intuition<br />

played and attempt to learn from any mistakes;<br />

• practice applying intuition in work situations or<br />

with hypo<strong>the</strong>tical scenarios, cases, or exercises;<br />

• watch and observe when and how o<strong>the</strong>rs employ<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir intuition;<br />

• become educated ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong> <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong><br />

by reading books and articles, and attending<br />

conferences;<br />

• learn to take risks when <strong>making</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s with<strong>out</strong><br />

being afraid <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> consequences;<br />

• practice <strong>making</strong> <strong>decision</strong>s with<strong>out</strong> all <strong>the</strong> data<br />

necessary.<br />

Meditation, journal writing, and mind<br />

may also be useful in becoming more knowledgeable<br />

ab<strong>out</strong> intuition.<br />

Managers should be increasingly concerned<br />

with developing <strong>the</strong>ir employees by using jobbased<br />

experiential learning strategies. For example,<br />

job rotation, or lateral career moves, exposes<br />

employees to numerous <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> scenarios<br />

and <strong>decision</strong>-<strong>making</strong> styles from which <strong>the</strong>y<br />

can learn vicariously.^o Job rotations also help<br />

managers quickly collect data ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>the</strong> organization's<br />

business and work practices. Training and<br />

development programs feed managers' <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

skills by giving <strong>the</strong>m experience in solving business<br />

problems.^'<br />

To develop employees' <strong>intuitive</strong> potential, top<br />

executives should pay close attention to how <strong>the</strong><br />

corporate culture may be explicitly or implicitly<br />

discouraging <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> intuition. Indeed, research<br />

suggests that intuition flourishes only if it is valued<br />

in an organization.22 If an organization's work<br />

environment, leadership, political climate, and socialization<br />

processes do not support <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> intuition,<br />

<strong>the</strong>n many employees will rely solely on objective<br />

methods and discount lessons learned from<br />

To develop employees' <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

potential top executives should pay<br />

close attention to how <strong>the</strong> corporate<br />

culture may be explicitly or implicitly<br />

discouraging <strong>the</strong> use 0/ intuition.<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir personal database <strong>of</strong> experience. Therefore,<br />

organizations should facilitate and selectively encourage<br />

employees who incorporate <strong>the</strong>ir <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

skills in <strong>the</strong> appropriate <strong>decision</strong> scenarios.<br />

Specifically, upper-level managers should reinforce<br />

employees' use <strong>of</strong> intuition in situations that<br />

are more likely to benefit from <strong>intuitive</strong> skills. Incorporating<br />

intuition into <strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong> appears<br />

relevant and applicable in <strong>the</strong> following scenarios:<br />

• when <strong>decision</strong>s need to be consistent with <strong>the</strong><br />

organization's culture and values;<br />

• when time is <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> essence;<br />

• when explicit cues are lacking because policies,<br />

rules, guidelines, or expert guidance are absent;<br />

• when uncertainty prevails because <strong>of</strong> new product<br />

planning or strategy formulation;<br />

• when quantitative analyses require a check and<br />

balance.<br />

Because such scenarios have become increasingly<br />

common in today's workplace, <strong>the</strong> ability to effectively<br />

engage one's intuition is becoming more<br />

important. A vice president <strong>of</strong> human resources in<br />

a small firm stated: "Often I have found myself in<br />

situations with<strong>out</strong> access to specialists or consultants<br />

and I needed to be willing to use my intuition<br />

and just go for it."^^<br />

Organizational mindsets must be modified to<br />

help eliminate <strong>the</strong> myths ab<strong>out</strong> intuition so that it<br />

can be used effectively in <strong>the</strong> workplace. Top managers<br />

need to transcend traditional linear <strong>decision</strong><br />

<strong>making</strong> by exploring and appropriately integrating<br />

nonlinear approaches when addressing complex<br />

business <strong>decision</strong>s.^^ The benefits <strong>of</strong> doing so<br />

may represent a viable source <strong>of</strong> competitive advantage<br />

in <strong>the</strong> 21st century.<br />

Appendix A: Sample and Study Methodology<br />

Study participants were selected from membership<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> National Management Association<br />

(NMA) and from author contacts. Potential participants<br />

were sent an introductory letter describing<br />

<strong>the</strong> nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> study and including <strong>the</strong> interview<br />

questions. Thirty-nine percent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> individuals<br />

contacted volunteered to participate, and complete<br />

data were obtained from 74 percent. Although participants<br />

were not randomly chosen, none self-selected<br />

into <strong>the</strong> study, thus limiting <strong>the</strong> biases <strong>of</strong><br />

self-selection.<br />

The group included 60 pr<strong>of</strong>essionals employed<br />

in various industry segments. The 39 men and 21<br />

women worked in an array <strong>of</strong> medium to large<br />

organizations, in both <strong>the</strong> public and private sectors,<br />

and were from across <strong>the</strong> United States. The<br />

average total years <strong>of</strong> work experience was 27.5<br />

(SD = 9.7), <strong>the</strong> mean organizational tenure was 15.9<br />

years {SD = 9.6} and <strong>the</strong> average job tenure was 6.4<br />

years (SD = 6.5 years). The vast majority <strong>of</strong> partic-

1999 Buike and Miller 97<br />

ipants had master's, bachelor's, or associate's degrees,<br />

or multiple degrees.<br />

Industry segments included 14 respondents in<br />

space flight operations and aerospace engineering,<br />

12 in public administration, 12 in manufacturing,<br />

11 in communication/transportation/utilities,<br />

and 11 in services.^^<br />

A pilot study with seven business pr<strong>of</strong>essionals<br />

was conducted prior to <strong>the</strong> main study to determine<br />

<strong>the</strong> validity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> content and <strong>the</strong> appropriateness <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> interview protocol. We used results <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pilot<br />

study to clarify question wording and to arrange<br />

questions into logical groupings. The pilot study results<br />

also pointed to <strong>the</strong> importance <strong>of</strong> providing <strong>the</strong><br />

interview questions ahead <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> scheduled interview<br />

to enhance participant reflection.<br />

In <strong>the</strong> main study, <strong>the</strong> second author conducted<br />

and taped semi-structured phone interviews to obtain<br />

rich description. The potential for biased responses<br />

was minimized by asking participants<br />

only <strong>the</strong> questions in <strong>the</strong> interview protocol, by<br />

following up only with questions that helped respondents<br />

clarify or elaborate upon <strong>the</strong>ir answers,<br />

and by cross-checking interviewer notes with<br />

taped conversations.<br />

The results are based on an analysis <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> interview<br />

responses using <strong>the</strong>matic analysis and a<br />

constant comparative method.^^ We constantly<br />

compared interviewee responses, with <strong>the</strong> goal <strong>of</strong><br />

organizing <strong>the</strong> data into systematic categories <strong>of</strong><br />

analysis by seeking recurring <strong>the</strong>mes. To enhance<br />

<strong>the</strong> trustworthiness <strong>of</strong> our interpretations,^^ we<br />

also employed multiple sources <strong>of</strong> data. The second<br />

author created a journal as an additional data<br />

source to identify recurring <strong>the</strong>mes. The first author<br />

provided a reliability check by listening to<br />

several <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> telephone interviews, taking notes,<br />

and <strong>the</strong>n comparing <strong>the</strong> two sets <strong>of</strong> notes. We<br />

found a 96-percent rate <strong>of</strong> agreement in <strong>the</strong>se sets<br />

<strong>of</strong> notes. In addition, <strong>the</strong> first author reviewed a<br />

randomly selected subset <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> second author's<br />

journal to independently validate <strong>the</strong> identified<br />

<strong>the</strong>mes. This confirmed <strong>the</strong> generation <strong>of</strong> similar<br />

<strong>the</strong>mes.<br />

Finally, to enhance <strong>the</strong> credibility <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> data, we<br />

conducted member checks to confirm <strong>the</strong> viability<br />

<strong>of</strong> our interpretations.28 A summary <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> findings<br />

was presented to a subset (seven percent) <strong>of</strong> our<br />

sample, based on our interpretation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> data.<br />

Each individual reported that <strong>the</strong> findings appeared<br />

to have significant face validity.<br />

Appendix B: The Nature <strong>of</strong> Intuition<br />

Researchers have conceptualized intuition as<br />

a sixth sense, a paranormal power, a gut instinct.<br />

an evaluative affect, an innate personality trait,<br />

and an accumulation <strong>of</strong> experience.^^ One <strong>of</strong> our<br />

objectives was to determine how closely <strong>the</strong> definitions<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>essionals we surveyed paralleled<br />

those in <strong>the</strong> literature. The results are highlighted<br />

in Table 1.<br />

Several constructs—creativity, tacit knowledge,<br />

judgment—have been used interchangeably<br />

with intuition. Intuition and creativity share<br />

common properties, and it has been suggested<br />

that intuition is a first and necessary stage <strong>of</strong><br />

creativity,^'^ that some sort <strong>of</strong> preconscious activity<br />

guides an individual to novel ideas.^' Individuals<br />

may <strong>the</strong>refore be able to enhance creativity<br />

by recreating environments in which <strong>the</strong>y have<br />

experienced intuition.<br />

Intuition has also been differentiated from tacit<br />

knowledge and implicit learning. Knowledge management<br />

focuses on leveraging <strong>the</strong> know-how and<br />

experience ab<strong>out</strong> customers, products, and processes<br />

within a firm.2^- Intuition is sometimes<br />

viewed as an end product <strong>of</strong> tacit knowledge,^^<br />

which is embodied in cognitive processes and implicitly<br />

learned through experience. Tacit knowledge<br />

is uniquely personal and complex.3" For example,<br />

skilled craftsmen develop a wealth <strong>of</strong><br />

readily-available expertise, with basic building<br />

blocks that are etched and entrenched in <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

minds and do not require conscious thought to<br />

analyze.3^<br />

Our present study also suggests that judgment is<br />

not regarded in <strong>the</strong> literature as encompassing an<br />

emotional element, but an affective component is<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten attached to <strong>the</strong> intuition construct. (See Table<br />

Acknowledgments<br />

The authors gratefully acknowledge <strong>the</strong> support<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> National Management Association (NMA), its<br />

president, Stephen K. Bailey, along with Karen Tobias<br />

and all <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> NMA staff members. We also<br />

thank <strong>the</strong> University <strong>of</strong> Dayton for funding <strong>the</strong><br />

project, as well as Lisa Cheraskin, Gordon Dehler,<br />

and William Lewis for providing feedback on earlier<br />

versions <strong>of</strong> our manuscript.<br />

Endnotes<br />

' For a review, see Agor, W. H. 1989, Intuition in organizations:<br />

Leading and managing productively. Newbury Park:<br />

Sage. For a discussion <strong>of</strong> how intuition has been measured<br />

using <strong>the</strong> MBTI, see Zemke, R. 1992. Second thoughts ab<strong>out</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

MBTl. Training. 29:43-47; Schweiger, D. M. 1985. Measuring<br />

managerial cognitive styles: On <strong>the</strong> logical validity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>

98 Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Executive November<br />

Myers-Briggs type indicator. Journal <strong>of</strong> Business Research. 13:<br />

315-328.<br />

^Behling, O., & Eckel, N. L. 1991. Making sense <strong>out</strong> oi intuition.<br />

The Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Executive, 5:46-54.<br />

^See Huff, A. 1990. Mapping strategic thought. In A. Huff<br />

(Ed.), Mapping strategic thought. Chichester: Wiley; Simon, H.<br />

1979. Information processing models <strong>of</strong> cognition. Annual<br />

Review <strong>of</strong> Psychology. 30:363-398; Wally, S., & Baum, J. R. 1994.<br />

Personal and structural determinants <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pace <strong>of</strong> strategic<br />

<strong>decision</strong> <strong>making</strong>. Academy <strong>of</strong> Management Journal, 37:932-<br />

956.<br />

^ Time. 1995. Glimpses <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mind. July 17:44.<br />

^Harper, S. C. 1988. Intuition: What separates executives<br />

from managers. Business Horizons, 31:13-19.<br />

^ See Vaughan, F. E. 1979. Awakening intuition. Garden City,<br />

CA: Anchor Press; Goldberg, P. 1989. The <strong>intuitive</strong> experience. In<br />

Agor, op. cit. Simon, H. A. 1987. Making management <strong>decision</strong>s:<br />

The role <strong>of</strong> intuition and emotion. The Academy <strong>of</strong> Management<br />

Executive, 1:57-66.<br />

' Westcott, M. R., & Ranzoni, J. H. 1963. Correlates <strong>of</strong> <strong>intuitive</strong><br />

thinking. PsychoiogicaJ fleporfs, 12:595-613.<br />

^ Davidhizar, R. 1991. Intuition and <strong>the</strong> nurse manager. The<br />

Health Care Supervisor. 10:13-19.<br />

^ See Parikh, J., Neubauer, F., & Lank, A. G. 1994. Intuition: The<br />

new frontier <strong>of</strong> management. Santa Cruz: Blackwell Business;<br />

Harung, H. S. 1993. More effective <strong>decision</strong>s through synergy ot<br />

objective and subjective approaches. Management Decision,<br />

31:38-45; Davidhizar, ibid.<br />

'" Simon, op. cit.<br />

"See Hitt, M. A., Keats, B. W., 8f DeMarie, S. M. 1998. Navigating<br />

in <strong>the</strong> competitive landscape: Building strategic flexibility<br />

and competitive advantage in <strong>the</strong> 21^' century. The Academy<br />

<strong>of</strong> Management Executive. 12:22-42; Harper, op. cit.<br />

'^ See Agor, W. H. 1983. Tomorrow's <strong>intuitive</strong> leaders. Futurist,<br />

17:49-53; Harper, op. cit.<br />

'^See Sharma, S. 1990. Psychology <strong>of</strong> women in management:<br />

A distinct feminine leadership. Equal Opportunities<br />

International. 9:13-18; Rubinstein, G. 1986. Women on <strong>the</strong> way<br />

up. Association Management, 38:26-30; Lamkin, M. D.<br />

1986. Power: How to get it, keep it, and use it wisely. Vital<br />

Speeches. 53:151-154; Agor, W. H. 1986. How top executives<br />

use <strong>the</strong>ir intuition to make important <strong>decision</strong>s. Business<br />

Horizons, 29:49-53.<br />

'* For fur<strong>the</strong>r discussion and research <strong>of</strong> gender and intuition<br />

see Ekman, P. 1992. An argument for basic emotions. Cognition<br />

and Em<strong>of</strong>ion, 6:169-200.<br />

'^ Bastick, T. L982. Intuition: How we think and act. New York;<br />

Wiley.<br />

'^ This finding, generated by a Princeton-based firm that has<br />

administered basic <strong>decision</strong> training to over two million managers,<br />

was cited in Newsweek. 1987. The wisdom <strong>of</strong> Solomon.<br />

August 17:62.<br />

"See Newsweek, ibid.; Harung, op. cit.<br />

'^Davidhizar, op. cit.<br />

'^ Agor. op. cit.<br />

^° For a discussion <strong>of</strong> job rotation strategies see Noe, R. &<br />

Ford, J. K. 1992. Emerging issues and new directions for training<br />

research. In K. Rowland & G. Ferris (Eds.), Research in<br />

Personnel and Human Resource Management. Greenwich,<br />

CT: lAI Press.<br />

^' Gumpert, J. 1994. GE's work-<strong>out</strong>: Creating leaders in a<br />

boundaryiess organization. Paper presented at <strong>the</strong> 1994 Academy<br />

<strong>of</strong> Management meeting. Dallas, TX.<br />

^^ Vaughan, op. cit.<br />

^^ Goldstein, Ken. Fall, 1998. From bureaucrat to entrepreneur.<br />

Management Education and Development Division Newsletter<br />

(Academy <strong>of</strong> Management), p. 8.<br />

^^See Hitt, op. cit.; Clarity, T. 1990. Face it! Intuition is a<br />

necessary part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> marketing process. Marketing News, 24:8.<br />

^^ Standard Industrial Classification Manual. 1987. Springheld,<br />

VA: U.S. Bureau <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Budget, Office <strong>of</strong> Statistical Standards.<br />

^^ Patton, M. Q. 1990. Qualitative evaluation and research<br />

methods, 2'"' ed. Newbury Park: Sage.<br />

"Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. 198S. Naturalistic inquiry.<br />

Newbury Park: Sage.<br />

^^Bell, R. W., Sherry, Jr.. J. F., & Wallendorf, M. 1988. A naturalistic<br />

inquiry into buyer and seller behavior at a swap meet.<br />

Journal <strong>of</strong> Consumer Research, 14:449-470.<br />

^^ Shirley, D. A., & Langan-Fox, J. 1996. Intuition: A review oi<br />

<strong>the</strong> literature. Psychological Reports. 79:563-584.<br />

^° Bastick, op. cit.<br />

3' Finke, R. A., Ward, T. B., & Smith, S. M. 1992. Creative<br />

cognition; Theory, research, and applications. Boston, MA: Massachusetts<br />

Institute <strong>of</strong> Technology.<br />

^^ Ruggles, R. 1998. The state ol <strong>the</strong> notion: Knowledge management<br />

in practice. California Management Review. 40:80-91.<br />

^^ Shirley, D. A., & Langan-Fox, J. 1996. Intuition: A review oi<br />

<strong>the</strong> literature. PsychoiogicaJ Reports, 79:563-584.<br />

^* See Leonard, D., & Sensiper, S. 1998. The role oi tacit knowledge<br />

in group innovation. California Management Review. 40:112-<br />

130; Cole, R. E. 1998. Introduction to special issue on knowledge<br />

and <strong>the</strong> firm. California Management Review, 40:15-21.<br />

^^ See McClean, B. C. W. 1995. Intuition in modem command<br />

philosophy. Military Review. 75:98-99; Nonaka, I. 1991. The<br />

knowledge-creating company. Harvard Business Beview. 69:36-<br />

105.<br />

^^ Time. op. cit.

1999 Burie and MiiJer 99<br />

Lisa A. Burke is a visiting assistant<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>essor at Louisiana<br />

State University in Shreveport.<br />

Her research interests focus on<br />

management training, development,<br />

and education. Her research<br />

has been published in<br />

Human Resource Management,<br />

Human Resource Development<br />

Quarterly, and Human<br />

Resource Management Review.<br />

Contact: lburke@pilot.<br />

lsus.edu.<br />

Monica K. Miller is a work<br />

group coach at Kraft Foods.<br />

When this study was conducted,<br />

she was a student at<br />

<strong>the</strong> University <strong>of</strong> Dayton.<br />

where she received <strong>the</strong> Theta<br />

Phi Alpha National Senior<br />

Service Award. She was also<br />

awarded membership in<br />

Who's Who Among Students In<br />

American Universities & Colleges<br />

and <strong>the</strong> Golden Key National<br />

Honor Society. Contact:<br />


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