Intuition revisited – inter-relationship of intuition and knowledge management (Part 3 of 3 blogs)

There are some interesting inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM)

This blog follows on from part 2: “Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma”, and part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”.  All three blogs are based on Gary Klein’s book “The power of intuition”1

Klein explains that intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.  It is something that we must continuously foster and maintain.  Klein describes ways that we can foster intuition in ourselves and in others, and ways in which we can integrate it into our way of working. Several of the approaches that he describes echo knowledge management techniques such as ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

This blog will explore the inter-relationships between intuition and knowledge management (KM).

Is intuition ‘tacit’ knowledge?

Klein spends some time defending intuition as something very real and tangible. Neither magical nor mystical, it is solidly founded on experience and can be enhanced or diminished dependent on our receptiveness, diligence and the environment in which we operate.  It is the result of our expertise and how we exercise it.  We can also help to cultivate it in others through a combination of written instructions (i.e. ‘explicit’ knowledge) and coaching.

This sounds very much like what we KM practitioners call ‘tacit’ knowledge: the knowledge that is “in people’s heads”.  Klein also draws a version of the data – information – knowledge pyramid.  Only, he adds ‘understanding’ and then several bullet points associated with intuition:

  • recognizing patterns,
  • searching for data,
  • building mental models,
  • seeing the stories (KM practitioners like storytelling as well but as a way to  capture and transfer knowledge),
  • adapting,
  • taking an active stance,

before looping back to data etc.

KM practitioners sometimes add ‘wisdom’ to the top of the data  – information – knowledge pyramid.

Using scenario-based exercises to foster intuition

Klein devotes a lot of his book to ‘Decision Making Exercises’ (DMX for short).  This is in effect an accelerated learning process for developing individual intuition, and relies on defining and working through scenarios.

Training or learning professionals will recognize this case study based approach:

  • There is a narrative description of a scenario that has to be resolved with some contextual background
  • There are some simple rules
  • A visual representation
  • It should be easy to play
  • It is best done as a group, with time pressure
  • There is a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the topic and can either apply additional pressure or keep things light

There are also some significant differences from other case study based exercises:

  • The DMX is best developed by the delegates: typically the delegates will work in more than one group, so that they can play each other’s DMX
  • There is no single correct answer
  • An integral part of the exercise is the follow-up discussion and reflection on what decisions were made, why and how

By mixing people who are expert in a topic with those who are less so, these DMXs could accelerate the development of tacit knowledge and intuition.

‘Pre-mortems’, ‘learning before’ and ‘peer assists’

Klein introduces the idea of ‘pre-mortems’ where a team, having completed its plans for a piece of work – a project – then envisages a scenario where they’ve got to the end of the project to find it has been a spectacular failure.  They then work through why that would have happened, enabling them to identify all the things they should have addressed in an open and constructive way.  Supporters of positive thinking and appreciative enquiry might balk at this approach – and opt instead for a scenario of spectacular success!

Nonetheless, pre-mortems are an approach that practitioners of KM could consider adopting, alongside ‘learning before’ or  ‘peer assists’, which differ from the more inward-looking ‘pre-mortems’ in that visiting teams are consulted to see what the resident team can learn from their previous experience in order to identify and mitigate risks or address issues in their projects and plans.


  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge management and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.


5 thoughts on “Intuition revisited – inter-relationship of intuition and knowledge management (Part 3 of 3 blogs)”

  1. Hi Elizabeth – nice post ! Yes the best pattern matcher still resides between your ears assuming you work smart and hard to refine it e.g. better signal to noise processing 😉 Then its amazing what you can deduce for connections between tacit knowledge and intuition ( in addition to what you cite from Klein )


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