Our existence is not marked by a clear boundary between rationality and intuition. Much of our existence is driven by intuition and, if it were not so, we would have died out tens of thousands of years ago. Our spontaneous and emotional nature helps us to live without the constant oppression of rationality. Intuition belongs to our pre-verbal evolutionary stage, the one in which our interaction with reality was immediate.
It is also called the holistic phase, that is the phase in which the flow of information was integrated into our mind as an indistinct "whole". The absence of logical categories allowed "only" an intuitive knowledge of reality. Intuition does not make use of the analytical phase, that is, the one in which we dissect reality and reconfigure it on the basis of our gnoseological models, but it is a process of immediate synthesis that summarizes (in the sense of overall) the information and returns it a unitary knowledge.
Intuition sinks into our personal and deep deposit of memory and automatically links new experiences with past ones with an analogue search and comparison mechanism. In short, it is an a-rational process that integrates personal emotions and experiences, to order the little information available in a framework of apparent experiential coherence. Contrary to intuition, our rational nature and our conscience (the order can be varied) guide us in recognizing situations and in trying to put order where necessary. So we move in a mix of rationality and intuition. Daniel Kahneman (Nobel laureate in economics in 2002) explains the phenomenon perfectly in his book Slow and fast thoughts.
In essence, Kahneman tells us that it is not true that our behaviors are usually logical and that only under pressure we make mistakes. Indeed, it tells us that the opposite is true. It is true that we constantly live in an intuitive state and most of our decisions are not made logically. Because? Because our rationality is lazy and slow. The image we have of the reality around us is quickly built on an intuitive basis.
The little information we collect we organize quickly to obtain a coherent and credible scenario of reality. What about rationality? When does it come into play? When the situation is complex or complicated by some specific factor. Then, slowly, rational logic starts moving and begins to organize itself to understand and decode. To be honest, still another piece is missing: instinct. Yes, because if intuition is a form of pre-logical knowledge and reaction, instinct is even a pre-intuitive reaction. Instinct is an automatic and natural behavior that bypasses intuition and rationality.
In instinct there is nothing personal that belongs to us. It is a behavior inscribed in our DNA, as human beings. It is a behavior that belongs to us as a species and not as individuals. But how do these three "systems" come into play? Given that the first and the second are activated autonomously, what are the conditions for which we activate the third system, the logical-rational one?
The answer is: when we have enough information to work out a logical process. The discriminant is the amount of information. In the presence of a very limited amount of information, we do not even activate our most superficial layers of consciousness and we react (fortunately) by instinct. In the presence of a greater number of information, but still not sufficient to formulate a logical-rational cognitive process, we use intuition. In the presence of a significant amount of information, we activate our logical and rational processes. Well, now, thanks to Kahneman, we've got some order out.
At this point, it may be interesting to ask: we activate our logical and rational processes. Well, now, thanks to Kahneman, we've got some order out. At this point, it may be interesting to ask: we activate our logical and rational processes. Well, now, thanks to Kahneman, we've got some order out. At this point, it may be interesting to ask:
- What leader am i or think i am?
- A predominantly rational leader? And if so, is it good?
- Am I a predominantly instinctive / intuitive leader? And if so, is it good?
- Am I aware that the level of my rational approach depends on the amount of information I have?
- What do I think of my team members? Could I help them position themselves with respect to rationality and instinct-intuition?
- Am I aware that the members of my team have the same characteristics as me (instinct, intuition, rationality)?
- How do I work to increase the degree of their rational approach? Do I provide all the information useful for logical-rational processing?
- Do I value and guide their intuitive impulses?
- Am I aware that time is one of the discriminating factors for activating logical-rational thinking? Am I able to handle it?
- Am I aware that the wealth of experiences of individuals and of the team as a whole constitutes the reservoir that feeds intuitive activity? For this reason, do I increase the opportunities for sharing and common learning?
About the author
Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.