As mentioned in my previous blog I  read an article in McKinsey Quarterly (May 2010) titled “How to test your decision-making instincts”.  It is a summary of an article they published in March 2010 called “Strategic decisions:  When can you trust your gut?” authored by Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein.

The article points out that our intuition is an accumulation of everything we have learned and experienced over our lifetime up to the point of the decision we need to make.  The authors have found in their studies that when we are faced with making a decision often our memories invade our thinking first so that we feel something often before we have thought anything.

And remember that our past is filled with positive and negative experiences which mean we have positive AND negative emotions about those experiences.  So we could be faced with a decision and reject it based strictly on the fact that we are experiencing a negative emotion around it.  And that could be the wrong decision!

So when can we trust our gut?  Kahneman and Klein suggest four tests:

1)  The familiarity test:  Have we frequently experienced identical or similar situations?

The more we have experienced the same or similar situations the more reliable will be what we feel in our gut.  Take a minute to think about how this decision may be similar to something you have faced in the past.  If not, do more research on possible solutions.

2)  The feedback test:  Did we get reliable feedback in past situations?

When we make a decision our brain records it as positive since we won’t really know if it is bad until further into the future.  So in assessing your past situations that were similar what was outcome?  Positive or negative?

3)  The measured-emotions test:  Are the emotions we have experienced in similar or related situations measured?

The authors are asking us to weigh or measure how high our emotions are around this similar decision.  All of our memories come with emotions attached to them and some created highly charged emotions, either positive or negative.  Is this feeling causing you to be unduly influenced so you are blinded in making a rational decision.

4)  The independence test:  Are we likely to be influenced by any inappropriate personal interests or attachments?

If there is a personal interest associated with the decision beware of your personal bias.  It could cause you to decide based on what is best for you and not what is right for your company.

Kahneman and Klein say that if the decision you face fails even one of the above tests the decision-making process needs to be strengthened.  I mentioned these in my previous blog: talk it over with your mentor if you have one; bring it to a CEO peer group like Vistage; and/or discuss it with your leadership team.  Never ignore your gut.  Listen to it for sure.  But take the time to determine whether it is the best choice.

What decisions have you made with your gut that turned out good or bad?  I would like to share your experiences with other readers.

Consider Reading This

Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer.  A renowned psychologist, Gigerenzer says that rather than refection or reason, what is much better qualified to help us make decisions is the cognitive, emotional and social repertoire called intuition.