Do (Not) Trust Your Gut


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Do (Not) Trust Your Gut

  1. 1. DO (NOT) TRUST YOUR GUT! Do (NOT) Trust Your Gut! Mahal R. Watkins San Jose State University School of Library and Information Sciences 1 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  2. 2. Abstract Alden Hayashi’s (2001) beliefs in gut instinct and intuitive genius are refuted by Eric Bonabeau (2003). Karl Weick’s (1996) tool dropping metaphor demonstrates that professional decision making is not an intuitive act. Various managerial decision making styles, tools, and methods are introduced. Stephen Abram (2007) characterizes “attitudes rather than aptitudes” that inspire change and innovation. Cotters eight steps of successful change are also mentioned. Information professionals have several decision- making tools and resources superior to intuition available to structure and evaluate decisions in times of change and innovation. In 2001, Alden Hayashi praised top business executives who relied on “gut 2 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  3. 3. instinct” to make crucial decisions. Hayashi (2001) describes the concept of “gut instinct” as a “subconscious, visceral feeling” and a “vague feeling of knowing something without knowing exactly how or why.” Instinctive genius requires “an uncanny ability to detect patterns, perhaps subconsciously, that other people either overlook or mistake for random noise” (Hayashi, 2001). Intuition is “one of the x-factors separating the men from the boys” and “top jobs at any organization all require sound business instincts” (Hayashi, 2001). Hayashi (2001) believes that people can increase their decision-making prowess by listening to their gut and tapping into their right brains. He regards the “intuitive genius” of Bob Lutz and similar executives a result of “exquisite instincts” possessed only by especially gifted leaders of industry. Hayashi cites Henry Minzberg’s description of intuitive decision making as a revelation that occurs when your conscious mind percieves something that your subconscious mind had already known (Hayashi, 2001). Hayashi (2001) refers to “left brain” thinking as conscious, rational, and logical and “right brain” as subconscious, intuitive, and emotional claiming that executives tap into their right-brain thinking by jogging, daydreaming, listening to music, or using meditative techniques (Hayashi, 2001). In addition to right brained thinking, Hayashi (2001) considers balanced emotions as crucial to intuitive decision making. According to Antonio R. Demasio, “decision making is far from a cold, analytic process,” rather, “our emotions and feelings play a crucial role by helping us filter various possibilities quickly, even though our conscious mind might not be aware of the screening” (Hayashi, 2001). Hayashi (2001) cites Herbert A. Simon (1976) who concluded that “experience enables people to chunk information so that they can store and retrieve it easily.” 3 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  4. 4. According to Simon (1976), “intuition and judgment are simply analyses frozen into habit” and “when we use our gut, we’re drawing on rules and patterns that we can’t quite articulate” (Hayashi, 2001). Several studies of experts in various fields have confirmed that professional judgment can often be reduced to patterns and rules (Hayashi, 2001). The ability to “cross index” or see similar patterns in disparate fields “elevates a person’s intuitive skills from good to sublime (Hayashi, 2001). Hayashi’s (2001) proclaims Chrysler president Bob Lutz’ s decision to manufacture an expensive, monstrous, flashy sports car now known as the Dodge Viper in the midst of market uncertainty an example of intuitive genius at work. Because executives know that instincts can be off, the ability to “self-check” or remain aware of the various traits of human nature becomes another essential component of intuitive decision making (Hayashi, 2001). The tendencies for revisionism, self- fulfilling prophecy, and overconfidence can cloud intuitive decisions. According to Daniel Goleman, self-awareness is the ability to recognize their own moods, emotions, and drives as one of the key criteria for effective leaders (Hayashi, 2001). I agree with Goleman (200n) that self-awareness is a key attribute of an effective leader, but reliance on intuition seems like a hasty and involuntary reaction that must be checked accordingly. My gut instincts often clash with my original intentions and organized plans. Personal and professional experiences have taught me not to rely on my gut instinct to make important decisions. Doing so has cost me relationships, jobs, and opportunities. The mark of a good manager is the ability to research and contemplate to the fullest extent possible the issues involved and to make a decision only after deliberate and collaborative consideration. I do not regret my past gut decisions, but I have since 4 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  5. 5. learned to recognize that when in doubt, ignore my spontaneous instincts and follow an organized plan. As a professional librarian, I will have a wide range of professional affiliations and “deep web” access to information rendering “gut instinct” a decision making tool of last resort. Analytical methods including the environmental scan, SWOT analysis, and strategic plan are utilized by library leaders and managers to make and implement decisions based on carefully articulated missions, values, goals, and objectives. This paper discusses whether the intuitive style suggested by Hayashi (2001) is relevant to management of information organization given other analytical decision making styles and tools. Bonabeau (2003) challenges Hayashi’s (2001) beliefs that gut instincts are at the center of decision-making process. Bonabeau (2003) believes that intuition has its place in decision making but that anyone who thinks intuition is a substitute for reason is indulging in a risky delusion because intuition is not a means of assessing complexity but of ignoring it. Bonabeau (2003) argues that intuition is not valuable if you are an executive faced with a pressing decision about investing millions in a new product for a rapidly changing market because the reality is that for every great gut decision there is an equal and opposite example of a terrible one. Detached from rigorous analysis, intuition is a fickle and undependable guide and is just as likely to lead to disaster as to success (Bonabeau, 2003). The reason Lutz’s story has become business legend is because people want to believe in the romantic and simplistic transformative power of intuition Bonabeau, 2003). Rather, anyone claiming the “superhuman power of exceptional instinct” is attempting to justify a high executive status and an enormous salary 5 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  6. 6. (Bonabeau, 2003). Hayashi (2001) claims that the ability to see patterns in disparate fields is a stroke of intuitive genius while Bonabeau (2003) asserts that the deep-seated need to see patterns is actually a dangerous flaw of intuition. Our thinking is subject to biases and flaws operating at a subconscious level of intuition confirming assumptions and prejudices while ignoring information that calls them into question (Bonabeau, 2003). We inevitably filter out the very things that make the new phenomenon new because we rush to recycle the reactions and solutions from the past (Bonabeau, 2003). This unconscious desire to identify patterns is so strong that we routinely perceive them where they do not in fact exist (Bonabeau, 2003:3). The human drive to find patterns is so strong that they are often read into perfectly random data (Bonabeau, 2003). Rather than rely on “gut instinct,” Bonabeau (2003) proposes the use of decision- support tools for making strategic business decisions. These tools include “agent-based modeling” where a computer creates millions of individual virtual actors that make decisions, providing a model of a complex system’s dynamics to predict the madness of crowds (Bonabeau, 2003). Analytical software known as “artificial evolution” or “evolutionary computation” uses the computational power of computers to search and evaluate vast numbers of solutions (Bonabeau, 2003). “Open-ended search” focuses on the initial search for options instead of evaluation using a computer to create random combination of rules to produce a new strategy for testing Bonabeau (2003). “Interactive evolution” is a method of incorporating the expertise, judgment, and intuition of seasoned professionals to evaluate a generation of alternatives rather than a computer (Bonabeau, 2003). These decision making support computer tools are not intended to replace human 6 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  7. 7. intuition, but to augment it by imposing left-brain discipline on right brain hunches beyond the computational capacity of the human mind. Karl Weick’s (Brown and Marek, 2005) tool dropping metaphor demonstrates that professional decision making is not an intuitive act among information professionals. Two historic fires, the 1949 Mann Gulch, Montana and the 1994 South Canyon, Colorado fire, involved firefighters who died fighting fires because they ignored the command to drop their tools and thus flee the apparent danger (Weick, 1996). A fireman’s professional instinct is to fight fires, not avoid them. Likewise, a librarian’s professional instinct is to organize the rapidly increasing collection of accumulated human knowledge and wisdom. However, unlike the firemen in Weick’s (1996) example, librarians frequently drop their tools in order to keep up with technological advances and user needs. One notable example of librarian tool dropping involves the replacement card catalogs in favor of digital ones. Stephen Abram (2007), a librarian with twenty five years of experience, characterizes “attitudes rather than aptitudes” that inspire change and innovation. Tips like “prefer action over study,” build and rebuild,” “have a vision and dream big,” “never underestimate the consumer,” “respect diversity,” and “no mistake is ever final” reflect wisdom based on a lifetime of experience rather than intuition (Abram, 2007). Instead of forming patterns out of his professional experiences, Abram (2007) realizes that a positive attitude is everything when it comes to inspiring change and innovation in an information organization. John Kotter proposes the eight steps of successful change: 1.) Create a sense of urgency, 2.) Pull together the guiding team, 3.) Develop the change vision strategy, 4.) 7 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  8. 8. Communicate for understanding and buying 5.) Empower others to act, 6.) Produce short term wins, 7.) Don’t letup, 8.) Make it stick . Step one of the process and gut decision making have the sense of urgency in common, but steps two through eight involve strategic plans of action to involve others in the decision making and implementation. Such tips and steps represent realistic decision-making methods based on organized thinking about change and innovation. Evans and Ward (2007) agree with (Bonabeau, 2003) that trusting one’s gut when making key decisions is not a good idea because thinking and deciding should be based on fact and assessment rather than instinct. Evans (2007) mentions several additional decision making styles to consider including directive, analytical, behavioral, and conceptual. Realistically, most people use several styles of decision making, adjusting the style to the circumstances; however, they usually have a favored approach based on their past experiences (Evans, 2007). Conclusion Knowing when to trust your gut is probably the same as knowing not to trust your gut. With so many available decision making tools to consider, gut instincts are best relied upon as a last resort if at all. Awareness and understanding of decision-making processes is a managerial asset. Successful managers must always consider what the future may hold, so that they can shape their planning, decision-making, and resource needs accordingly (Evans, 2007). References Abram, Stephen (2007, January). 20 tips to inspire innovation. American Libraries, 8 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations
  9. 9. 38(1), 46-48. Bonabeau, Eric (2003, May). Don’t Trust Your Gut. Harvard Business Review, 81(5), 116-123. Brown, Karen and Kate Marek (2005, Spring). Librarianship and change: A consideration of Weick’s “Drop You Tools” Metaphor. Library Administration and Management, 19(2), 68-75. Evans, Edward G. and Ward, Patricia Layzell (2007). Management Basics for Information Professionals. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers. Hayashi, Alden M. (2001, Febraury). When to TRUST Your GUT. Harvard Business Review, 79(2), 59-65. Simon, Herbert (1976) Administrative Behavior. 3rd ed. New York: Free Press. Weick, Karl (1996, June). Drop your tools: An allegory for organizational studies. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(2), 301-13. 9 Mahal Watkins Fall 2008 Library 204 Management of Information Organizations