Decision making is part and parcel of any position these days, especially if you have some level of managerial responsibility. The unfortunate reality is that most people feel they have good intuitive sense about which path is the best way to go when faced with a problem both in life and in business.
Is this something you’ve thought about?
Are you more of a gut-decision maker?
Or do you have that rare capacity to objectively analyse situations and make cool rational decisions?
There’s an easy way to find out.
I’m going to give you 60 seconds to answer all of the below questions, that’s just 10 seconds per question. Remember that this test is assessing your ability to think intuitively!
1. Calculate 6 x 7 = ____
2. Complete the phrase: “Fish and _____”
3. Which of these smiles is genuine?
4. A bat and ball cost $1.10 together. The bat cost $1 more than the ball. How much is the ball?
5. There is a patch of lily pads in a lake. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake?
6. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
Would you believe the average score is 3 correct out of 6!
You can check your scores at the end of this article but the most important question now is: Why?
To help us discover the answer we have to turn to Daniel Kahneman who won the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work on how our brains work, especially around problem solving. He asserts that, for some problems, we’re well-equipped for intuitive thought which he described as Thinking Fast. This is stuff like simple maths and reading expressions and body language which are skills our brains are well-designed to make rapidly and effectively. The human brain develops thinking rules of thumb called heuristics that facilitate this process.
This works out really well until problems become a little more complex. Unfortunately when this happens we often fall victim to confirmation bias as we tend to remember the times when we get it right. We also tend to be lazy, therefore as Thinking Slow (deliberate, conscious and sceptical thinking) requires more effort, uses more energy, so we tend to avoid it.
Have a look back at the above quiz. While appearing to be simple problems, questions 4, 5 and 6 are actually complex and require a bit more thought than they first appear. To get these right we need to practice our Thinking Slow problem-solving skills.
So, how can you find the right balance between thinking fast and thinking slow in your day-to-day problem solving?
Some easy starters are:
- Think twice about problems before assuming that the solution is simple;
- Use small groups to solve problems, the group is always smarter than the smartest person in the group;
- Use a diagram to explore the data in a problem;
- Use root cause analysis techniques such as 5 Whys to ensure that you truly understand the problem you are trying to solve.
Avoiding these mistakes is simple, it just requires a little more effort than jumping into the assumption that quick, intuitive thought will get you the right answer. Try to stop your brain taking the easy way out, the payoff can be enormous. Unfortunately, the down-side can be huge as well.
I also recommend the book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman which explores his Nobel Prize winning work on this subject in great detail, it is definitely worth a read.
And the next time someone comments on how good they are at thinking intuitively, challenge them with the test and see how well they do.
Correct answers: 1: 42, 2: Chips, 3: B, 4: 5 cents, 5: 47 days, 6: 5 minutes.