Bartleby: When to trust your gut
Deliberation is not always the best option
Humans have been honed over millions of years of evolution to respond to certain situations without thinking too hard.
If your ancestors spotted movement in the undergrowth, they would run first and grunt questions later.
At the same time, the capacity to analyse and to plan is part of what distinguishes people from other animals.
The question of when to trust your gut and when to test your assumptions—whether to think fast or slow, in the language of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist—matters in the office as much as it does in the savannah.
Deliberative thinking is the hallmark of a well-managed workplace.
Strategic overhauls and budget discussions are built on rounds of meetings, memos, formulas and presentations.
Processes are increasingly designed to stamp out instinctive responses.
From blind screening of job applicants to using “red-teaming” techniques to pick apart a firm’s plans, rigour trumps reflex.
Yet instinct also has its place.
Some decisions are more connected to emotional responses and inherently less tractable to analysis.
Does a marketing campaign capture the essence of your company, say, or would this person work well with other people in a team?
In sticky customer-service situations, intuition is often a better guide to how to behave than a script.
Gut instincts can also be improved (call it “probiotic management”).
Plenty of research has shown that intuition becomes more unerring with experience.
In one well-known experiment, conducted in 2012, volunteers were asked to assess whether a selection of designer handbags were counterfeit or real.
Some were instructed to operate on instinct and others to deliberate over their decision.
Intuition worked better for those who owned at least three designer handbags; indeed, it outperformed analysis.
The more expert you become, the better your instincts tend to be.
However, the real reason to embrace fast thinking is that it is, well, fast.
Instinctive decision-making is often the only way to get through the day.
Researchers at Cornell University once estimated that people make over 200 decisions a day about food alone.
The workplace is nothing but a succession of choices, a few big and many small: what to prioritise, when to intervene, whom to avoid in the lifts and, now, where to work each day.