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The Power of Professional Intuition

The ways projects are planned and managed have changed rapidly in the last decade, as agile and iterative approaches have become the norm. Old approaches based on a rigid structure have not been State of the Art for a long time now. Thereby, project management has found a viable solution for the increasing unpredictability of future developments. Of course predicting the future has always been more about magic and crystal balls than anything else. But something has changed in the last ten years; complexity and dynamic have accelerated.

Dynexity, the infamous combination of these two is on the rise. Our relation with the future has become more and more problematic. We are more likely to be confronted with our ignorance than with knowledge. The Pentagram of Ignorance shows the five reasons for our lack of knowledge:

  1. Numbers, data and facts are missing, we lack information. This is increasingly a thing of the past, as confirmed by managing directors, board members and leaders.
  2. You, me, we all drown in numbers, data and facts, there is too much information. It is impossible to have processed them in time for decisions we have to make. The projections of the International Data Corporation say it all. In reality, it is even worse.
  3. Information is contradictory, and often inconsistent. A prime example is the assessment of the impact of technologies. Are nuclear power plants safe or a risk? Are you really able to make estimations? I am not. There are also more recent developments such as genetic engineering and nano technology whose effects on the future we just cannot predict.
  4. Sometimes, information is incomprehensible and there may be situations in which we are not able to grasp them fast enough. We need context to truly interpret them, making them a source for contradictions.
  5. Last but not least, data cannot always be trusted. There is not a single company or organization where somebody isn’t plotting against another. The bigger the organization the more likely micro-political power games are. Spreading false information is a particularly helpful tool when it comes to enforcing one’s own interests.
Numbers, data, facts

Numbers, data, facts – the basis for good decisions?

These five reasons will continue to be of importance due to globalization and the dynexity resulting from it. Agile and iterative approaches will become more and more important, not only in project management. But what if shorter planning phases such as sprints do not solve the problems arising from ignorance?

In these cases we should begin to make use of a power that makes us differ from machines: our intuition, the ability to make a judgement without being able to state a reason or substantiate our insights and actions.  A very important skill and one we make use of only sporadically and without a structured approach. It is also a skill that is dependent on its acceptance in our society.

Is it even allowed to make a decision without adequate reports and records, and will these decisions be accepted? Or are you even encouraged to do so? And what about you? Do you encourage others to make decisions based on their intuition? And how do you deal with mistakes that may or may not arise from wrong decisions?

Many people will go on and tell you that in a world as complex as ours relying on intuition is grossly negligent. Often these people are mathematicians.

Well, these people do have a point. They are right because nobody is an all-knowing entity; there is always the possibility of being wrong when intuition is the basis for decisions. But they are definitely also wrong because EVERY judgement of a neurologically sane person has rational, emotional and intuitive aspects.

Studies have shown that if we do not have access to our emotions (as can be the case after certain brain damages) we are unable to make rationally sensible decisions. We are dependent on our emotions and our intuition.

In our daily life we often simply do not have the time to perform a big data analysis in order to create a rational basis for all of our decisions. It cannot always be about making decisions straight from the gut, as Jack Welch does it¹.

We really should make intuition a central aspect of dialogic, consultative decision-making processes. The real challenge is to assess the probability of the individual intuition-based scenarios, in two ways; what happens if we let our intuition guide us and what happens is we do not?

Our intuition is a neurological mechanism custom-tailored to perceive and process information that is far more powerful than our ability to make rational decisions. While this does not mean we should disconnect from this ability entirely we should improve our rational decision-making style by adding to it the powerful ability to include emotions and intuition.

Head , heart and gut in combination are more efficient than any of these alone, in the same way that team work of any kind produces more diverse and higher-quality decisions. In the end, different perspectives are what make stereoscopic vision possible.

Notes:
“Feel it! So viel Intuition verträgt Ihr Unternehmen”, Bestseller (in German only) by Dr. Andreas Zeuch. Find more information at www.a-zeuch.de.

[1] Jack Welch, “Straight From The Gut”, www.straightfromthegut.com  bzw. http://welchway.skillsoft.com/

Dr. Andreas Zeuch is a freelance consultant, trainer, speaker and author. He facilitates participation and democracy in organizations.

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