Pattern Recognition: What Goes On During Intuitive Thinking

Pattern-Recognition-IntuitionSo, how are your pattern recognition skills? They may be more important than you think, if you’re a leader charged with making quick yet accurate decisions.

I’ve been taking a peak behind the curtain at what goes on when we use intuitive thinking to arrive at best solutions. In the work I do with executives, I’ve noticed not everyone is good at using intuitive thinking skills. Some are good, but don’t trust it because they don’t understand it. They don’t understand intuition because it goes on behind the scenes, without our conscious awareness.

The problem is that now— more than ever— executives don’t have the luxury of lengthy analyses to make decisions. They need to make sense of incomplete data quickly — using intuition.

A key to harnessing intuition is to observe patterns. Patterns include routines for responding, known as “action scripts.” If we see a situation as typical, then we can intuit the typical action to take. We develop hunches about what’s really going on and how we should respond.

Using our intuition, we translate our experiences into judgments and action responses. When intuitive leaders see familiar patterns, their response is usually obvious.

Gary Klein, PhD., author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions at Work (Crown Business, 2004), offers the following diagram to explain the pattern-recognition process behind intuitive decision-making:Pattern-Recognition-Process-of-Intuitions

Pattern recognition occurs instantaneously, without conscious thought. We make intuitive judgments so quickly that they seem mysterious. Professor Klein’s diagram demonstrates the science behind these judgments.

Situations generate recognizable cues, and patterns trigger typical action responses that, in turn, affect the situation.

The Role of Analysis

Analysis has a proper role as a supporting tool for making intuitive decisions. Not all situations and experiences are the same, obviously. The extent to which we apply previous action scripts or devise new ones depends on our ability to analyze projected consequences.

Professor Klein recommends using “pre-mortems”: discussions that imagine scenarios with various applied actions and consequences. Intuition helps us decide how to react, and analysis ensures our intuition won’t mislead us.

What have been some of your experiences using intuition? What do you think? I’d love to hear your experiences. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn..

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