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Sources of Power and Intuition

I read a pair of Gary Klein books that look at decision making and intuition, which seems to be the core of his work.  I started with The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work (from 2004). And then I backed up to his Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions (from 1999), which describes more of the background research.

The basic idea is that human decision making is governed by a lot of processes from the snap decisions people make in emergencies to longer, considered decisions.  Klein's argument is that people rely on "intuition" a lot more than we might acknowledge.  These intuitions are based primarily on past experiences as well as some amount of knowledge.  His concern, at least in The Power of Intuition, is that many decision-making frameworks rely almost exclusively on using logic and analysis to define the process.  And in certain situations, the decisions are not governed by the analysis.  One might be able to review the situation and devise a logical explanation as to why and how a decision was made.  The conversation in the books is that in the moment of decision, people don't rely on analysis but on their intuition.

He developed a term for this: recognition primed decision making (RPD). Source of Power describes how this model of decision making arises in situations where there is no time to do analysis, such as firefighting or medical emergencies.  Power of Intuition then takes this and develops a model around helping people develop their own intuitions better.

And how to develop this expertise?  Not by sitting people in a classroom and teaching to them. It's always a challenge because there is some aspect of "knowledge development" that people (me!) believe is best done through a stand-and-deliver style.  But getting quickly beyond the basic knowledge and embedding that into people's psyche must allow for real-work application and practice in situations where it matters.  

Klein makes an important clarification here.  It's not sufficient to throw people into an experience with their new knowledge and expect intuitions to develop.  The whole point of intuition is that it has to be fast and primed by recognizing the right queues.  When a concept is new, we don't know what queues to look for, even if we have been "told" what to do.  The experience has to be reviewed - debriefed - with a specific eye to the key points where a queue was helpful in successes (or missed in failures).  There has to be a deliberate intent behind the practice.  Maybe this isn't such a surprise with our current understanding of multiple modes of learning and the Agyris concept of double-loop learning.  Of course, I still hear plenty of assumptions that training gives people enough knowledge, experience, insight, and drive to change the way they operate.  

Klein presents a number of methods for developing intuition, whether through the above practice or by the every day life of business.  Take action, review it.  Plan an action, do pre-mortems. Clarify the goals. Every day, there are "opportunities" to develop better and better intuitions.  

As an example of this in the TOC community, Eli Schragenheim introduced the idea of a mystery analysis at the TOC ICO conference in 2013. When reality differs from expectations, there must have been some underlying assumption or belief that wasn't what we expected.  What was the logic behind the actions we took and the expectations?  What happened instead?  What else must have been happening that we didn't expect?  This is a reasonable way to do an after-action when something bad happens, but it should be used equally well when something "good" happens - when an effort works out much better than expected.  

Of course, as I read, I highlight quotes and other interesting ideas.  These books seem to be loaded with more than usual.  Or I was particularly heavy with the highlighter.  Here are some of those.

From The Power of Intuition (no page numbers, as I was reading an ebook...)

  • "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Nice way to say that intuition has been given a bad rap.  Klein also references Herbert Simon's concept of "bounded rationality" that suggests for more complex decisions, the level of complication is such that "rational" approaches to decision making are less and less useful.
  • There is a nice discussion about how intuition becomes so innate that we forget how we thought before we had the intuition. We forget how hard it was to get a concept, once we know it.  (Unless you have children who are trying to learn similar things.)
  • Ways to tap into intuition: "you aren't restricted to asking people what decision they would make. You can ask them what information they would gather, or what questions they would have, or how they would assess the situation. You can ask them what problems they might anticipate, or what they would expect to happen in the future. You can ask them what guidance they would offer. These are all ways people use their intuitions. "
  • I love the idea of a pre-mortem: asking questions about what might cause an activity to fail or go awry.  Basically an after-action-review in reverse.  Imagine the effort has failed, what might have caused that to happen?  Again, this taps into intuition, and it can make your plans even better.
  • "The five sources of uncertainty are missing information, unreliable information, conflicting information, noisy information, and confusing information. Just because they are all called by the same term, 'uncertainty,' we should not treat them as equivalent."  And there is some discussion for tolerance of ambiguity that is important in decision making as well.  We can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by lack of information, but we need to develop the intuitions to know when we have sufficient information to move.
  • Maybe we should be careful about being too specific in our instructions to people.  We need to allow them to develop their intuitions as well. "If you just tell subordinates what you want them to do, without telling them why you need it done, you have kept things simple, but you have also made your plan more vulnerable."

And some from Sources of Power

  • Another version of the fog of war from the first page: We try to understand how people handle all of the typical confusions and pressures of their environments, such as missing information, time constraints, vague goals, and changing conditions.
  • Falling in love with our ideas? "We can ask what evidence you would need to give up your explanation. Sadly, the answer is that if you are determined enough, you might never give it up." I think of Occam's Razor in reading this section - at some point the justifications just become too much, and we have to break our love for our ideas.
  • There was an interesting discussion of problem solving that made me think of the value of Agile development ideas. "[Researcher Karl] Duncker found that as his subjects worked on these problems, they simultaneously changed their understanding of the goal and assessed solutions. A subject might think of a solution, try it out, realize it would not work, realize what was missing, and then add to the definition of the goal. This new definition would suggest new approaches, and when these approaches failed, they helped to clarify the goal even further."  This seems almost a perfect example of Agile - and the research was reported in 1935 and 1945.
  • Klein formalized the idea of commanders intent in terms of the information one might provide"  "There are seven types of information that a person could present to help the people receiving the request to understand what to do: 
    1. The purpose of the task (the higher-level goals). 
    2. The objective of the task (an image of the desired outcome).
    3. The sequence of steps in the plan. 
    4. The rationale for the plan. 
    5. The key decisions that may have to be made. 
    6. Antigoals (unwanted outcomes).  [I particularly like the discussion around this one for some reason.]
    7. Constraints and other considerations."
  • And he acknowledges that others have structured this differently. Karl Wick, for example used this structure of facets: Here's what I think we face. Here's what I think we should do. Here's why. Here's what we should keep our eye on. Now, talk to me. 
  • In the chapter on The Power of the Team Mind (14), there is an interesting conversation about "Team Identity" and whether the team members recognize common goals. When they don't it is easy to follow unhelpful paths that don't move the project forward.   
  • Interesting definition of uncertainty: "doubt that threatens to block action."  And Klein agrees with the TOC community when he says some version of "Information is the answer to the question asked."  Information that doesn't do this can cloud the situation, rather than clarify.
  • There was a nice connection to the ideas I have read from Cynefin and sense making. In some cases, we just don't know. Take small actions, check the results, and reinforce the actions that appear to lead in a positive direction.

And a nice summary of both books: "Therefore, we cannot expect to grow instant experts by using powerful training methods. We can make training more efficient but cannot radically replace the accumulation of experiences."

 

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