from R&D Innovator Volume 2, Number 1
Advantage of Intuition
Agor is professor of public management at the University of Texas
at El Paso and director of the Global Intuition Network.
He is author of Intuition
in Organizations (Sage Publications, Newbury Park, CA, 1989).
Why can some
researchers jump from limited data to the right conclusion?
Why, for example, did Nikola Tesla "know" that
alternating current would be easier to use and transport than the
direct current Thomas Edison was promoting so vigorously?
ability to reach conclusions quickly is becoming increasingly
important in science and technology. I'm sure many research leaders have, upon learning of a
competitor's advance, remembered that someone on the team
suggested the same approach several years earlier.
Unfortunately, because not every step could be explained
when the idea was presented, it was dismissed.
guess is that this ignored researcher was probably highly intuitive.
But aren't scientists supposed to be logical, organized,
systematic, not intuitive? Everyone
accepts the need for researchers like this—they are adept at
organizing and implementing plans, obtaining and analyzing data,
writing reports, and dealing with day-to-day details.
these "thinking" types are not sufficient for
laboratories that want to prosper in these challenging times.
These labs also need "intuitives"—people who
can see problems and opportunities in totally new ways.
tomorrow's research climate, you will be forced to make more
decisions in a less traditional
will need to reach decisions without sufficient data or when
information is too costly to assemble.
It is in precisely this kind of decision-making climate
that intuitive skills are most useful.
who are highly intuitive function best in complex, rapidly
changing situations. They
like to wrestle with the unknown and to choose among alternatives
that are all backed by good arguments.
They thrive when facing a high level of uncertainty, when
time is limited, and when precedent is lacking.
you know your colleagues, you can probably spot the intuitive
ones. They challenge
traditional assumptions. They
prefer non-routine tasks and informal work styles and settings.
Often their bursts of energy are followed by slow periods.
They solve problems by following hunches instead of
traditional logic, often bouncing around from the back of a
problem to the front rather than reasoning in a sequence.
contrast, "thinkers" follow routines and step-by-step
procedures and often prefer a standard work schedule.
They are great for many crucial tasks, have good
follow-through, and seem "steadier"—more reliable.
thinking and intuitive people have certain strengths (see Table
1). But problems
arise when the two types must collaborate.
When the intuitives' ideas are criticized—and they often
are—they lose interest and withdraw.
As a result, fewer ideas are generated, and those that
surface are often scuttled before receiving a fair hearing.
1. Strengths of
Intuitive and Thinking Researchers
what we need is a climate and a method that allow intuitive brain
skills to flourish and be integrated with traditional approaches.
In its essence, this method uses segregation during the
early phases of idea generation and criticism, then collaboration
during the final stage. The
goal, simply, is to get the best of both worlds.
You can dramatically improve each group's output—and the
joint product of the groups—by having the groups address the
same issue in separate stages, rather than in one room at one time
(see Table 2).
2. Taking Advantage
of Thinking Styles to
you face a tough problem, I believe it's best to start with step
I: Separating the
intuitives from the thinkers, so ideas can surface freely and
receive an open hearing. This
way, you will get more and better suggestions from the intuitives
because they no longer face a "cold war" of criticism
that pass that stage (and are still generating enthusiasm) should
go on to step II: Selecting
thinkers to evaluate the suggestions.
Thus you will still obtain the benefits of the critical
review (although at an unusually late stage in the process).
process vastly improves the ultimate quality of the final product
because intuitive people tend to be careless with facts and
details, especially during implementation.
assemble groups for step III:
Discussing and refining the final product.
Technique is critical at this point, so be sure to select a
leader who can facilitate interaction between the various thinking
styles in the group. If
done correctly, each member will feel ownership of the final
product, thus enhancing the likelihood of implementation.
you understand the virtues and uses of intuition, only one
question remains: Can
you use your staff's intuition to help your group find critical
ideas and overcome the complex problems of
these challenging times?