Intuitive decision making


Intuitive decision making is an unconscious process created out of distilled experience. It doesn’t necessarily operate independently of rational analysis rather the two complement each other. And, importantly, intuition can be a powerful force in decision making. For instance, research on chess playing provides an excellent illustration of how intuition works.

Novice chess players and grand masters were shown an actual, but unfamiliar, chess game with about 25 pieces on the board. After 5 or 10 seconds, the pieces were removed and each was asked to reconstruct the pieces by position. On average, the grand master could put 23 or 24 pieces in their correct squares, while the novice was able to replace only 6. Then the exercise was changed. This time the pieces were placed randomly on the board. Again, the novice got only about 6 correct, but so did the grand master! The second exercise demonstrated that the grand master didn’t have any better memory than the novice. What he did have was the ability, based on the experience of having played thousands of chess games, to recognize patterns and clusters of pieces that occur on chessboards in the course of games. Studies further show that chess professionals can play 50 or more games simultaneously, in which decision often must be made in only seconds, and exhibit only a moderately lower level of skills than when playing one game for which decisions take half an hour or longer. The expert’s experience allows him or her to recognize the pattern in a situation and draw on previously learned information associated with that pattern to arrive at a decision choice quickly. The result is that the intuitive decision maker can decide rapidly based on what appears to be very limited information.

For most of the 20th century, experts believed that the use of intuition by decisions makers was irrational or ineffective. That’s no longer the case. There is growing recognition that rational analysis has been overemphasized and that, in certain instances, relying on intuition can improve decision making.

When are people most likely to use intuitive decision making? Eight conditions have been identified:

1. When a high level of uncertainly exists
2. When there is little precedent to draw on.
3. When variables are less scientifically predictable.
4. When “facts� are limited.
5. When facts don’t clearly point the way.
6. When analytical data are of little use.
7. When there are several plausible alternatives solutions from which to choose, with good arguments for each.
8. When time is limited and there is pressure to come up with the right decision.