A Nobel Prize-winning psychologist says the most successful decision-makers know how to use their gut feelings in a way the rest of us don't
- To make a good decision, delay your intuition until you've gathered all the necessary information.
- That's according to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman.
- At the World Business Forum in New York, Kahneman said that if you rely on intuition first, you'll just waste time looking for evidence that supports your initial conclusion.
In his 2011 bestseller, "Thinking Fast and Slow," Daniel Kahneman introduced two distinct modes of cognition: System 1 and System 2.
System 1 is all about gut instinct; System 2 is characterized by analysis and reflection.Kahneman, a psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in 2002 for his pioneering work in the field of behavioral economics, argued that we rely too often on System 1, jumping to conclusions instead of examining an issue more closely.
But the solution isn't to eliminate System 1, or intuition, entirely. It's to use it more effectively.
I spoke with Kahneman at the World Business Forum in New York and he told me that a key to making better decisions is to "delay intuition" until you have all the information necessary.
Kahneman saw the power of delaying intuition more than 60 years ago, when he helped improve the interviewing process for new recruits to the Israeli Army.
The system he designed required interviewers to measure the young people on six dimensions in a specific order, and only then use their intuition to imagine what kind of soldiers those people would make.Kahneman told me this system can also be applied more generally - say, if you're deciding between jobs or places to live (my examples, not his). In the case of jobs, you might rate each job you're considering on location, coworkers, salary, and room for advancement. Only once you've rated each of these factors do you take a look at the jobs as a whole and see how you feel about them. The idea is to analyze first; intuit second.
'Once you have begun to reach a conclusion, the rest of the time is basically wasted'
Kahneman told the WBF audience more about delaying intuition later that afternoon.
"I'm not saying that people should not have an intuition," he said. "They have to have it. But intuitions are better and more accurate if you delay until you have all the information organized and you have a profile of the information."
The very real danger of going exclusively with your gut, Kahneman told me, is that "once you have an intuition, you keep collecting information that seems to confirm it." Psychologists call this phenomenon "confirmation bias."
"Once you have begun to reach a conclusion," Kahneman told the audience, "the rest of the time is basically wasted because you are finding … reasons for doing what you already decided to do."
In other words, Kahneman told me, the confidence you feel when everything seems to support your hypothesis is "illusory. But it's a very pleasant illusion."
To be sure, overcoming the draw of this illusory perception is trickier than it sounds. Kahneman told me that it's easier to critique your thinking than it is to revise it. "You can also improve your own thinking," he said, "but it's a hard thing to do."