The Myth Of Experience

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We’ve all had experiences where we can anticipate what’s coming. So, today we are going to talk about intuition. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Intuition might be more valued in business than analysis. Many of us want a quick answer we can trust from somebody who would know. Some proponents of intuition suggest that we should rely on our intuition more, that our guts are very wise, and that our lizard brain is very well attuned to what’s happening. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink made this argument.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We should not trust our intuition; it’s not always right, only sometimes.

The economic psychologist Robin Hogarth has researched intuition for four decades. He’s posted many videos and written several excellent books on the topic, including The Myth of Experience. We discussed his theories and their practical applications on a recent podcast, and I wanted to share them here, too.

What is Intuition?

Let’s talk about what our intuition is. Psychology Today describes it as “a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytic reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and nonconscious parts of our mind, and also between instinct and reason.

We talk about intuition as in our gut or sometimes in our hearts. However, it doesn’t exist there; instead, it exists in our minds. Moreover, it is based on our experiences in the past.

We’ve discussed our shared two-part cognition model, the Rational System, and the Intuitive System. Our intuition comes from our Intuitive System’s faster, automatic thinking. Therefore, to understand what guides intuition, we must understand what drives the Intuitive System.

The automatic part of your brain’s primary job is putting ideas together from all the information it receives (experience). So, the Intuitive System looks for things that co-occur. Then it links those things. When that happens enough, the connections strengthen, and, eventually, when you see one part, you expect to see the other.

My intuition aids me when I need technology by sending me to buy Apple products. I’m not interested in looking at anything else. My choice may be automatic but has grown over the years based on my experiences with Apple products.

However, these are automated decisions, not conscious ones. We cannot concentrate and make these connections form intuitively. It happens based on our exposure and experiences.

Intuition Takes Two Forms: Automatic and Learned.

Some are hardwired; some are automatic. For example, if you show pre-verbal infants pictures of snakes and spiders, the babies will have an automatic adverse reaction. Those intuitions from our Intuitive System come preloaded. Some people overcome them; others can’t. But preloaded intuitions exist for everybody.

Learned intuition results from exposure to ideas and patterns over time. Eventually, our brain can call these connected ideas or patterns automatically. Experts develop excellent intuition through these functional correlations in their areas of focus. Therefore, an expert can sometimes give an accurate intuitive response to a query in their area without much deliberation or research.

To clarify, I am not saying experience replaces intuition or vice versa. Neither am I saying that experience is terrible and intuition is good. On the contrary, there are times when each is useful and understanding when those moments are is essential.

Hogarth talks about two types of learning environments for your experience or intuition, kind and wicked.

Kind environments have fewer things happening that can be causing the effects, so a person’s intuition is probably going to be right about the source of what is happening. However, a wicked environment has many different things that could cause the effects, so a person’s intuition is more likely to get it wrong here than in a kind one.

This video does an even better example of explaining the difference between the two.

It will not always be evident to us when we’re in the situation, whether we’re in a wicked learning environment. However, I offer this caveat: things with humans will always be a wicked environment. Humans are complicated; in any given situation, many different influences can be causing the effects.

So How Does This Apply to Customers? 

Many organizations think they know everything about their customers. However, when you ask them how their customers feel and what drives value, they don’t know. Therefore, organizations make decisions based on what they think they know.

We still have an intuition if we’re trying to anticipate customer behavior but don’t know how customers feel. It’s just wrong. Therefore, applying a much more analytical framework incorporating science, slowing down, and using more data will have a better outcome.

For example, imagine you are in an organization implementing a Customer Experience team. Six months after the implementation, the company launches a new product, and revenues soar. An intuitive response might be that the new product increased revenues.

However, a company is a wicked learning environment, with many influences on the effects. It turns out that the experience team had implemented some of the changes they determined were necessary to change how customers feel in interactions with the company. The effects of these changes happened to coincide with the product launch. Now, which influence caused the increase in revenue? The numbers will show you for sure.

However, if your gut was driving that call, chances are your instinct was that the revenue was linked to the product, even though there was no evidence showing you that was true. Of course, the numbers might prove it was the product. My point here is that intuition can be wrong.

The movie (or book) Moneyball is a great example. Baseball recruiting has always happened in a specific way with desirability details determined by the talent scout. However, one baseball professional (Played by Jonah Hill in the film) decided to use statistics, and a very specific one, to determine a player’s desirability and find undervalued players to recruit to the Oakland A’s, a team with a limited budget for talent. The players with this statistic might not have looked like what you thought they should to be great ball players, but they were. That statistic drove the intuition about who was valuable to the team, and it was not an intuitive one.

So, What Should You DO with This?

First, you should probably not rely on intuition as often as you are. Sure, it makes you fast, and decision-making feels efficient. However, you are perhaps in a wicked learning environment, which makes the chances of your intuition being “right” less likely than if it were a kind learning environment.

Therefore, we suggest you at least pair your “gut feeling” with some data and a more analytic approach. Maybe you get a bad vibe from somebody, and you shouldn’t ignore that. However, if that’s the only way you make decisions, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Remember also that artificial intelligence systems are artificial intuition systems. As you feed data into it, the machine is doing its version of making connections and finding links. So, as great as AI machines are, we must remember that the systems have the same challenges as we do to a certain extent. The data must be fed to the machine in kind environments rather than wicked ones to draw the proper conclusions and, eventually, intuitions.

Finally, if you develop a great set of intuitions in one setting and then move to a different setting, many people bring their intuitions. However, it is essential to remember that it is now a different setting, and the intuitions should be different also. We see this in business leadership, where someone excels in one business model but fails in the next. Part of that failure could result from bringing old intuitions into a different environment, where they are no longer as reliable as before.

Therefore, your intuitions are great, but we need to be cautious about how broadly we apply them.

You need to be curious. We need to experiment and not just rely on our guts. It’s never one thing or the other or black or white. It’s always grey. So, it’s not that you shouldn’t listen to intuition, but it also says you can’t make every decision based on your intuition. If you’re sensible, you’ll use a bit of both.

If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.

There you have it. No promotions, no gimmicks, just good information.

Think reading is for chumps? Try my podcast, The Intuitive Customer instead. We explore the many reasons why customers do what they do—and what you should do about it. Subscribe today right here.

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