Empirical and neuroscience research consistently and convincingly finds the best decision makers use both analytic and intuitive decision-making strategies (Phillips, et al., 2016). A key differentiating factor between these decisions is in how data is used in the process.  Analytic or rational decisions use data in one of two ways.  First, they may attempt to identify a linear pattern or progression in a set of data in order to discover trends that either explain the past or predict the future.  Second, analytic decisions may be steeped in a large quantity of data that tip the judgement scale.  More data in one category over others leads to a decision (e.g., votes in an election).  The collection, analysis and reflection upon available data for the purpose of prediction or judgement is at the heart of an analytic decision.

While intuitive decisions also need data, these decisions require the decision maker to recognize connecting patterns in factors determining the outcome of a situation or event. Intuitive decision-making skill is developed from repeatedly observing an event or situation.  The presence or absence of certain factors as well as a shift in the balance or timing of these factors will alter the outcome. The ability to make sound intuitive decisions is, thus, deeply dependent upon one’s level of experience and expertise in a particular environment (i.e., domain specific).  Expertise in a specific field determines the decision maker’s skill in assessing situations quickly and correctly, spotting anomalies and recognizing quality options. Intuitive decisions involve a fast, nonconscious, non- deliberative process that is relatively effortless and not constrained by working memory limitations. They become a particularly powerful tool in instances where there is little data, many options, an uncertain future, and when the logic of an analytic decision needs confirmation. Intuitive decisions are sometimes mistrusted because intuitive decision makers are not easily able to rationally explain their decisions. Advantages of intuitive decisions are that they are not only often correct but made economically and efficiently fast.

Albert Einstein said, “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  In making important decisions, wouldn’t it be wise to use both the gift and the servant?

Reference

Phillips, W. J., Fletcher, J. M., Marks, A. D. G., & Hine, D. W. (2016). Thinking styles and decision making: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin142(3), 260–290