When was the last time you got a hunch something was not right?
You know this moment when you feel in your guts that you shouldn’t do something.
Indeed, I am talking about your intuition.
For instance, we say its our intuition when we have a strong feeling for a job offer.
We believe it’s that same intuition, which helps when we decide to invest and buy shares of a specific company.
And the question many decision experts look at answering is when can we trust our intuition?
First, we need to clarify the definition of intuition.
There are many, but let’s agree that intuition is an unconscious cognitive process to obtain knowledge.
We could say that intuition is knowing, without knowing how we know.
But I really like the slight correction made by Daniel Kahneman.
He is a famous expert in judgment and decision-making.
And for him, intuition is thinking we know, without knowing how we know.
We can find a great example of this correction in the work of the author and psychology doctor Philip Tetlock.
In one of his most famous studies, Tetlock assessed the ability of experts to make accurate forecasts over 20 years.
He looked at a great variety of topics, with thousands of predictions.
Predictions range from the economy, stock market, elections, wars, and the list go on.
When these experts attempt to predict complex events, it turns out that their intuition was often misleading.
How much off the mark were they getting?
According to Tetlock, their predictions were as good as dart-throwing chimpanzees attempting to hit their target.
Experts were no better than random guessers.
And the experts’ results were even worse if they were famous.
So it turns out we are not so good at educated guesses for events that could happen in the far future.
And what about events that occur almost immediately?
Would intuition work out in these situations?
What Daniel Kahneman implies when he says that: “ we think we know” is that our intuition can often go wrong.
Your intuition can tell you “Number 10 will win this horse race”, but if you add “I think” as in “I think Number 10 will win this horse race”, this makes a huge difference.
Having a high level of confidence from a “gut feel” is not a sign that our intuition is correct.
In fact, for intuition to work accurately, there is a set of specific conditions to comply with.
So what are they?
Let me illustrate them with some situations where intuition is likely to be accurate.
We can see intuition in the genius of a chessmaster. With a simple glance at a board, she can predict the number of plays before checkmate.
We can see intuition in the premonition from the firefighter that knows, when in a house in flames, that something is wrong and just evacuates seconds before the building collapses.
We can see intuition in couples that have lived together for decades. The husband calls his wife over the phone. With just a single word, she knows what mood he is in.
So what do these situations have in common and make our intuition accurate?
According to Kahneman, there are 3 things.
First, the regularity of the situation.
Without regularity, you can’t learn.
That’s a reason why intuition doesn’t work with the stock market, because situations aren’t regular enough to learn from them.
Second, you need a lot of practice.
The chessmaster, the firefighter and the married couple have dozens of years, or more, of practice.
It allows them to unconsciously draw from this accumulated experience to form their intuition.
And finally, you must have immediate feedback.
That’s to say you quickly know whether or not your decision is right or wrong.
For instance, if you make the wrong move on the chess board, this could quickly end the game.
So the next time you face a decision and want to follow your intuition, ask yourself if these three conditions are satisfied?
If they are, your inner judgment is probably accurate.
If not, you better off giving a chimpanzee some darts to throw.
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