Improve Your Intuitive Thinking

“The real challenge is not whether to trust intuition, but how to strengthen it to make it more trustworthy.” ~ Gary Klein, PhD, The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions at Work (Crown Business, 2004) Many executives will tell you that decisions should be based solely on a thorough analysis of data. But a new breed aims to achieve breakthroughs by harnessing the power of intuition. The more experiences we have, the stronger our intuition becomes. Repetition (practice) sets the stage for competency. Intuitive decision-making improves when we acquire more patterns, recognize how they play out and develop a larger repertoire of strategies. Pattern Recognition Repeated experiences are unconsciously linked to form patterns. A pattern is a set of connected cues. When you spot a few of the cues, you can expect to find others. As we gain experience at work, we assemble a catalog of recognizable patterns. Over time, it becomes easier to match a situation with a previous pattern. Truly inspired decisions require a more sophisticated mechanism: cross-indexing. The ability to see similar patterns in disparate fields elevates your intuitive skills. Action Responses Patterns include routines for responding, known as “action scripts.” If we see a situation as typical, then we can recognize 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. Professor Klein offers the following diagram to explain the pattern-recognition process behind intuitive decision-making: Pattern recognition occurs...
Midcareer Crisis …or Opportunity?

Midcareer Crisis …or Opportunity?

Have you ever had a midcareer fantasy where you quit your job and go do something new? Many executives secretly admit to their coaches that they’re contemplating midcareer shifts. They may not actively seek change, but they certainly start imagining it. Of LinkedIn’s 313 million members, 25% are active job seekers; 60% are passive job seekers (not proactively searching for new jobs, but seriously willing to consider viable opportunities). There’s also been a steady increase in self-employed and temporary workers over the last two decades. Entrepreneurship may sound lucrative every time a startup goes public. Regardless of your age, background or professional accomplishments, you’ve probably dreamed about a new career at some point. Midlife is often a time when we reevaluate our goals, aspirations and what truly matters to us in life. In “5 Signs It’s Time for a New Job” (Harvard Business Review, April 2015), Columbia University...

Do You Know Your Strengths?

Most of us have a poor sense of our talents and strengths, yet are acutely aware of our weaknesses and flaws. Throughout the education system and subsequent careers, there’s often been much more attention paid to how to improve and fix our shortcomings rather than enhance our strengths. “Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer.” – Peter Drucker, management expert Parents, teachers, and managers are well versed in spotting deficits. In fact, most people – partners and spouses included – consider it their duty to point out our weaknesses in the hope of helping us improve. As a result, most of us have become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives either trying to fix these flaws or accept them as permanent character defects. Consequently, our strengths lie dormant and neglected. The research, however, is clear: we grow and develop by focusing on our strengths, rather than trying to correct faults. Over the last decade, coaching and leadership professionals have been placing greater emphasis on developing personal strengths. The goal is to help individuals work with what they have and build on their natural talents. Large corporations like Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota, and Yahoo now require that employees take surveys measuring talents and strengths. Their CEOs recognize that company success depends on leveraging what already works instead of trying to fix what’s broken. Cultural Differences A Gallup poll investigated this phenomenon by asking Americans, French, British, Canadian, Japanese, and...

The Future of Work: 5 Skills for the Robotic Age

The challenges of 21st-century work – rapid innovation, unrelenting change and unprecedented uncertainty – have created a stress pandemic. Depending on your disposition, you may view the future as ripe for a spectacular explosion of creativity or poised on the brink of self-destruction. Either way, there’s no going back. The tools and skills we’ve developed over the last century inadequately address imminent challenges. We’re caught between two paradigms: a collapsing industrial platform and an uncertain new one. Man vs. Machine In February 2011, the IBM computer “Watson ” trounced two Jeopardy! champions over a 3-day competition. Watson’s cognitive-reasoning skills were far superior, with access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content (4 terabytes of disk storage, including the full text of Wikipedia). Even before Alex Trebek finished reading a clue, Watson’s 2,880 parallel processor cores began to divvy up the workload. At 33 billion operations per second, they could search 500 gigabytes of data (roughly 1 million books) in the blink of an eye. Watson could also hit the buzzer in less than 8 milliseconds. During the 3 seconds Watson took to deliver a correct response, various algorithms worked across multiple processors to return hundreds of hypothetical answers. Watson was programmed to hit the buzzer only after reaching a 50% confidence level. By the end of the game, Watson had surpassed previous champions’ winnings by almost 200%, easily becoming the first nonhuman Jeopardy! champion. In February 2013, IBM announced that Watson’s first commercial software application would be used for utilization management decisions at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Ninety percent of nurses who use Watson now follow...

Renewing Yourself: The Power of Play

What ever happened to unbridled joy in our daily lives? Remember the fun of play as children? Nearly everyone starts out in life playing quite naturally, with whatever’s available. We make up rules, invent games with playmates, fantasize, and imagine mysteries and treasures. Maybe we need to renew ourselves and start playing more. Something happens as we become working adults: we shift our priorities into organized, competitive, goal-directed activities. If an activity doesn’t teach us a skill, make us money, or further our social relationships, we don’t want to waste time being nonproductive. Sometimes the sheer demands of daily living and family responsibilities seem to rob us of the ability to play. “I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.” ~ Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Penguin Books, 2009. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, presents his ideas on this TED TV video: Play Is More than Fun. Sprinkled with anecdotes demonstrating the play habits of subjects from polar bears to corporate CEOs, Brown promotes play at every age while defining it thus: Play is an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It is also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again. We tend to...

Noticing: An Elusive Leadership Skill

“Leaders often fail to notice when they are obsessed by other issues, when they are motivated to not notice, and when there are other people in their environment working hard to keep them from noticing.“ – Harvard Business School Professor Max Bazerman, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2014) As a leader, you’re responsible for making key decisions each day. But how confident are you in your ability to notice all pertinent information? If you’re like most leaders, you probably believe your perception skills are keen. As convinced as you may be, it’s possible that you’re overestimating your aptitude. What’s in front of you is rarely all there is. Even if you have a superior grasp of common blind spots, you must remain alert for unplanned surprises and acknowledge your cognitive biases. Even the most venerated leaders make egregious mistakes, failing to notice – or even ignoring – essential data. As they handle an emerging crisis, they may ask: “How did this happen?” or “Why didn’t I catch this sooner?” They should really be asking themselves: “What information should I have gathered, beyond the basic facts?” “What information would have helped inform my decision?” Imagine your advantage in negotiations, decision-making and overall leadership if you could teach yourself to spot and evaluate information others routinely overlook. More than a decade of research shows that successful leaders take no notice of critical, readily available information in their environment. This often happens when they have blinders on, focusing on limited information they’ve predetermined to be necessary to make good decisions. What YouTube Can Teach Us...