by Laura Dziaszyk
A few minutes of research threw up a number of versions of the decision making process, ranging from four to seven steps. I prefer the five step version which I came across at a seminar some years ago. I remember only the concepts, not the specific words – which is probably just as well as I can’t give appropriate accreditation. Here are the five steps:
- Recognise and define the need for a decision
- Determine what you want to achieve
- Generate ideas for possible solutions
- Evaluate and compare optional solutions
- Decide and specify action
Each of these steps could involve significant data gathering and analysis. The most interesting point, however, was that at step 5, no matter what the analytical results might be, in the majority of cases a gut hunch on the part of the key decision maker would rule the day.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, many successful entrepreneurs make no secret of their reliance on gut hunches. But what of the rest of us? Unless we are key decision makers, in business we are required to demonstrate logical evidence of the benefits of our proposals. Could we do better?
Gut hunches and intuition
What are gut hunches? I like to think of them as intuitive hits, when our fickle subconscious mind decides to grant us a ‘Eureka!’ moment. The next question is, of course, what is intuition? Like ‘plan’ or ‘manage’ it is a term that is used frequently but without precision. We tend to think of intuition as delivering ideas out of nowhere, because our conscious mind has not generated them. However, although there are some exceptions, intuition and gut hunches are usually products of subconscious processing of previously acquired unconscious knowledge. After all, we process sensory input at 50,000 times the speed of conscious thought, so it stands to reason we must perceive huge quantities of information outside awareness. Given also that our unconscious mind has been proved a master at pattern recognition, we should not be surprised at its ability to synthesise data outside of logic.
Unfortunately, communication between the various parts of our brain is less than perfect, largely because the subconscious has no words. Its language is sensation – the feeling in our gut, our bones or our water; the tingle in our shoulders – that alerts us to a sense of ‘knowing’, a sense that can be so strong it is a certainty.
But is our subconscious mind always right? Sadly, not. Estimates put the success rate at 70% at best. Intuition is not infallible. It arises without the benefit of logic or clearly defined purpose and may be based on out-of-date information. Though it can pay dividends, to rely on intuition alone is a risky business. The best decisions are based on whole-brain thinking – intuition and intellect combined.
The biggest setback for intuition is that we are not aware of the basis of the ‘knowing’. It is hidden from us. Hence we are often hesitant to trust our own gut hunches and even less inclined to trust someone else’s.
What we need is a tool or method to help us access and interpret our hidden knowledge on demand. If we can understand its provenance, we can judge its validity. However, in the business world there is a very limited supply of helpful resources. Brainstorming is marginally effective at stimulating ideas but is hindered by its reliance on language and goes no way towards explaining hunches. Mind-mapping is an improvement but suffers from the same limitations. Although some images may be introduced, they tend to be the product of logic.
Compared with these, De Bono’s Six Hats system is by far the more effective at accessing unconscious knowledge. It does this by role play that requires participants to approach issues from unfamiliar angles, thus exposing both new thinking pathways and hidden knowledge. The result is a more comprehensive understanding of the issues by all parties and this must contribute to better decision making. Nevertheless, this method goes no way towards explaining hunches.
The best way of stimulating new thinking, revealing hidden knowledge and explaining hunches is through the random selection of pre-printed images. [Objects also work well but are not practical in a business environment.] The images can be found in magazines and books or in decks of pictorial cards such as medicine or angel cards. The best source of images for this purpose is the Corporate Signpost toolkit, which includes a deck of cards designed specifically with business in mind. In fact the story-lines reflected in the deck are business processes and management roles.
Images are effective because they are processed in an older part of the brain which does not rely on language and holds a major memory store. I believe this is where our unconscious knowledge is stored and where subconscious processing takes place. Images are meaningful on a personal level and can be interpreted by:
- association of ideas or concepts: the picture reminds me of……
- colour: red might suggest passion, danger or warnings, warmth or blood
- symbology: trees might suggest room for growth; part of the growth cycle; if in full leaf, maybe Summer
- number: eg number 1 indicates leadership; independence; new starts and first steps
- language: a word in the image may be ‘x’ so either the solution may be ‘x’ or ‘x’ may be the risk or block to the solution
- through sensory perceptions: when I see this image I feel, think, taste, sense that …
There are no wrong answers. Simply by-pass logic and use your senses.
Using images to improve decision making
Images can be used at every stage of the decision making process to draw out the power of intuition and give it substance. Selecting cards at random also aids the process by opening new thought pathways. Here is an example of methodology for each step in decision making.
Step 1: Draw 3 cards to represent the underlying problem, the hindrance to its resolution and a hint at the solution. These images will break through the obfuscating symptoms to an understanding of the real issue.
Step 2: Interpretation of a single card drawn at random can be used to help identify the vision you want to achieve.
Step 3: Draw as many cards as you wish in order to stimulate ideas for possible solutions.
Step 4: For each short-listed option, draw 4 cards to represent the key strength, weakness, opportunity and threat. Compare results.
Step 5: Check that the selected option integrates well with existing operations by drawing 4 cards to represent the nature of the new strategy, the nature of the existing strategies, their synergy, and potential outcome.
Other studies are possible at all stages. Images may not always appear relevant but working on the assumption there is something to learn from each card will stimulate new thinking.
A caveat: intuitive methods should never be used in isolation. Their power is most potent when combined with logical analysis.
The Corporate Signpost toolkit is designed for stimulating intuition in a business environment. It is effective for an individual, a one to one discussion, or a group workshop. See our Case Studies page for examples and other pages for more information.