Thursday, June 4, 2015

Digital Master Tuning #94: Is Intuitive Decision Making Good or Bad

Intuition matters, but pay more attention to the unconscious bias.


The human brain can process huge amounts of information unconsciously without it ever rising into consciousness. This is why intuitive decision making can be powerful and should not be underestimated. Herbert Simon and Daniel Kahneman state intuition is recognition. Your unconscious recognizes what you like or what you have practiced many times. It is good to go with the intuition of a firefighter who has fought countless fires. It is also good to go with the intuition of a physician who has treated thousands of cases or done thousands of similar operations. However, it is not so good to go with intuition when it is an excuse not to put in the effort to pay attention to detail and think carefully. And the outcome was, if the problem is familiar, and a quick response is needed, intuition works well. They have well-developed heuristic models, etc. that have been trained in similar situations. However, what’re the potential pitfalls for intuitive decision making, and how avoid them?


The problem with intuitive decision-making is that it can seldom be quantified and so analyzed. People rely on their gut if they are trained or experienced, first responses don't have time to weigh all the factors in a decision and are trained to make fast decisions. But if you are in an unfamiliar setting would you step back and look for facts and factors and try to create or consider more alternatives before deciding? Statistically, the majority of normal humans make their decision based on intuition.They then quickly check the decision against (confirmation bias) "facts." This boils down to how much priming you have received into the subconscious. And it takes some serious mental training and mindfulness to ascertain the amount of priming and confirmation: bias + complacency you need to deal with before seeing a clear picture and arrive in a somewhat unbiased decision. In a team or social setting, 'groupthink' can be extremely pervasive and a group's intuitive decision making should be taken with extreme caution. Also, intuitive decision making can just be plain wrong! In many situations, the human brain is very poor at spotting 'differences' whilst being much better at spotting 'similarities.' For this reason, if something has always happened a certain way in the past, you are much more likely to assume it will happen the same way again, which may well not be the case because you have not noticed what has changed.


Intuition matters, but pay more attention to the unconscious bias: People have different ways of accessing their intuition and “knowing” when they have made a good decision. On a personal level, there may be a number of factors involved, possibly just outside of your awareness, that let you know when a decision is right for you. Think about a time where you made a decision that you were happy with. Decisions have to be 'provable' in order to meet the demands of accountability for multi-faceted purposes and also to establish some attitudinal issues. Challenging those who refer to their 'gut' instincts often goes some way to revealing their unconscious bias. Sadly, it is true that if we believe in our choice, we increase the probability they will work out because this could also be a matter of self-fulfilling prophecies and the ever-decreasing spiral of stereotypes. Check if there is a link between ‘bias’ and ‘perception’ in terms of how we make decisions and build trust. Intuition is one element for our unconscious process which is created out of our distilled experiences; it is often used when there is a high level of uncertainty. Meaning, there is little precedent to go on, when the ‘risks‘ are less predictable and when “facts” are limited. These facts don’t lead you in one solution, data is of little use when there are several plausible outcomes/ uncertainties. This intuition is based on our risk tolerance for ambiguity and our way of thinking developed by our biases. So this raises the question of what is ‘rational’ for making decisions, given that we have a tendency to construct simplified models that extract the essential features from our experiences without capturing all complex reasoning. It would be interesting to do further research on how we use ‘perception’ based not only on the actual ‘risk,‘ but on how we understand it or believe it to be? How we perceive, analyze the risk, connect this with our biases, and combine it with a rational analysis of intuition to make a decision would be an interesting problem to solve.


Asking the right questions and collecting evidence is still key to make the right decisions. Of course, you gut feeling will play a role, but by asking simple questions like how do you know, what evidence do you have, is it your opinion or a fact, makes decisions less biased. There are even more pitfalls here. Research / investigation / learning is partly about creating a hypothesis, and then seeking to test it by seeking falsifying information. If you go looking for supporting information, and not conflicting information, you may produce supporting arguments, but you probably haven't increased the probability of making the right decision. So before using your intuition, it is good to ask a couple of questions:
-Is there a structure to the problem? That is, should there be a pattern, even if it is too complicated to make out.
-Have I had an opportunity to learn? Am I truly an expert here?
-In learning, did I get good feedback? Too often we get feedback based on outcomes, not our thinking process.


More work needs to be done on creating a healthy environment for intuition to be valued and respected. What might be identified as "intuition" is probably subconscious rapid assessment through a decision tree to come up with an appropriate and timely response to an unfolding situation. That is the ideal outcome for training certain professions with an "automatic" (intuitive) appearing reaction. If you have time, whether or not you are familiar with the problem, a more analytic approach works well. The reason that you get better answers, even for familiar problems, is that you consider more alternatives and you spot "extra factors" for this particular decision, that may not be taken into account in your heuristic model. You can also uncover unconscious bias
If you are not familiar with the problem, and you need a quick decision, you're doomed!

There is no one size fits all. The variation in decisions to be made vary tremendously across the developmental spectrum. Timelines and content play havoc with decisions to be made. Intuition has its place in decision making, but clarify your gut, breaking the "problem down," rather than making one big "gut decision," can reveal inappropriate bias, and creates an audit trail. Framing the right questions, and strike the right balance between data and intuition, are all crucial to making effective decisions.

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