Malcolm Gladwell, a best selling business writer, stated in a recent speech to the VARBuiness 500 Awards meeting that his most recent best seller Blink “examines ‘thinking without thinking’—how people make judgments in an instant—ones that often stand up better than decisions made with far more data analysis.” (“Trust Your Instincts,” Cristina McEachern & Joe Caponi, VARBusiness, July 10, 2006)
He offers four reasons why spot decision making works:
1. “Instinctive Expertise: In every field and at the highest levels, experts draw on instinctive judgments for their most important decisions. Certain kinds of high-stakes decision, under conditions of informational uncertainty, can only be made instinctively.
2. A Sense of Mystery: By definition, we don’t always have access to the ‘why’ when we make an instinctive judgment. That’s because we’re drawing on an unconscious database, which is outside of awareness.
3. The Fragile Shell: The best decision-makers protect their instincts against bias and corruption. Unlike more formal, conscious thinking modes, instinctive judgment is quite susceptible to being hijacked by bias.
4. Embracing Frugality: Instinctive judgments thrive in conditions of informational frugality—where marginal of unnecessary data has been edited out of the decision-making space.”
So who needs competitive intelligence, or any CI consultant (like me, for example), for that matter if instinctive decision-making is superior?
In my experience, instinctive decision-making works in a very limited number of instances. And a big problem with those cases is that you don’t know which ones are appropriate until the results of the decisions are known. And even then, you cannot be sure which, or if, another decision would have produced superior results.
Before I get too philosophical here, let me present the reasons why instinctive decision-making is limited:
1. Unconscious Incompetent: Does the decision-maker really have the expertise that he or she thinks exists in her or his subconscious? Often, the data there is limited, out-dated, or incorrect without the decision-maker realizing it.
2. Bias-Free: Nor can the decision maker evaluate any bias that may exist since the instinctive decision-making is a “mystery.”
3. Justifiable: Instinctive decision-making works only if the decision maker is top dog. If the decision has to be justified to higher management or by a committee, forget instinctive decision-making. They want to understand the reasoning for the decision, preferably with succinct PowerPoint slides and lots of backup.
4. Relevant Frugality: I agree that informational frugality is good, but only after a clear analysis of the intelligence needed to support critical business decisions. Then extraneous data can be eliminated.
Instinctive decision-making will continue to occur in all organizations, but CI professionals should seek to be sure that relevant, concise intelligence is provided to decision-makers so there’s no mystery at all about the rationale for business decisions.