There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or.. why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings

I like a book that challenges my assumptions and ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell is one of them.  Each time I read such a book, I discover how much more I need to learn.  Apologies if what I’m about to write about is already obvious to readers.

Whenever I run workshops using Lean and Six Sigma, there are people in the room who are frustrated by its highly structured, sequential and logical approach.  In my earlier blog: Creativity and problem solving (, I reflected on the aspects of this relating to creativity and use of the right hand side of the brain.  ‘Blink’ also discusses the importance of the right hand brain, this time for making decisions.

Many management techniques, Lean and Six Sigma included, put a lot of emphasis on taking a structured approach to decision making as in:

  • Identify the criteria against which some options are to be evaluated
  • Prioritise or weight the criteria
  • Score the options to be evaluated against each criterion
  • Add up the scores and whichever option has the top score is the option of choice

Each step allows for a certain amount of subjectivity but because this kind of exercise is often done in a group, there is some apparent objectivity in the outcome.  However someone will invariably speak up and either say: “Why did we bother doing that, I could have said which option we were going to choose?”, or “I just can’t agree with the outcome”.  So that sometimes a group will end up going with ‘gut instinct’ anyway.

The following points form ‘Blink’ are I think particularly worth considering:

  1. There seems to be a particular role for intuition when: a) encountering very new or different options for which known criteria are just not valid; b) where decisions based on intuition just cannot be explained in a logical way (although Malcolm Gladwell gives some very poignant examples of how experts can learn to interpret their intuition).
  2. There are circumstances where it would be quite risky to rely on one’s intuition: a) when under tremendous stress (to a certain extent it could sharpen our decision making, but there is a point beyond which we would make very bad decisions); b) when there is just too much information to be digested and we would do better to go back and identify just the critical few criteria; c) where our subconscious ‘houses’ prejudices that we are not conscious of, or we are otherwise adversely affected by external factors.  This last is the most difficult to deal with, just because we are not conscious of what is affecting our decisions!

So, my conclusion: we should be cautious about adopting an absolutely logical left hand brain approach in our decision making, and allow for more balance with some right hand thinking.

1 thought on “There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or.. why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings”

  1. elisabethgoodman

    Steve Hancock, Tokyo Electron, sent me the following comment which I am posting with his permission:

    “Your piece on decision making was very relevant for me, as one of my roles in my organisation is to train & support use of a “Decision Analysis” process (Kepner Tregoe). One of the main things that people need reminding of I find, is that decision making is subjective & weighting models are just a guide to help the thought process (& also help justify decisions to management). A really important part of the process is also to consider what are the risks associated with different choices & to ask what risk are you willing to accept or what can you do to reduce or manage risks to your acceptable level. A big (obvious?) learning point for me a few years back was that problem solving is objective as there is always a root cause(s) that fits the facts, but decision making is subjective depending on what’s important to you and the risks you’re willing to take.”

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