On gut feeling as decision making tool

Many a time we find ourselves agonizing over some decision. We sometimes look back and, especially when unhappy about it, say that it somehow did not feel right when deciding a certain way, despite what seemed like supporting evidence. All in all, mastering one's own gut feeling is as elusive a task as any. Only few admit to relying on gut feeling, since our society recognizes analytical skills more than something hardly quantifiable and defensible only in retrospect. In an interview with Context Magazine, Deepak Chopra lets the reader in to the high-level decision making process of a Sony executive. The following excerpt may provide some with a useful tool:
The truth is that the body responds contextually to everything that happens in the mind. The mind doesn'’t have a specific location in the body. It isn't just in the brain.

If you say, "I have a gut feeling about such and such," you aren'’t speaking metaphorically. The phrase is rooted in science. The cells in your gut make the same peptides that your brain makes when it has ideas. You probably can trust your gut cells even more, because they havenÂ’t yet evolved to the stage where they doubt their own thinking.

I once interviewed Masaru Ibuka, founder and chairman of Japan'’s Sony Corp., who was supposed to have great business instincts. I asked him, "“What is the secret of your success?"” He said he had a ritual. Preceding a business decision, he would drink herbal tea. Before he drank, he asked himself, "“Should I make this deal or not?"” If the tea gave him indigestion, he wouldn'’t make the deal. "“I trust my gut, and I know how it works,Â" he said. "“My mind is not that smart, but my body is."”
So, when preparing to make a decision, if you have to reach for that Nexium, think of Chopra/Ibuka.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

... especially by those managers who want to hide their lack of argument or knowledge behind 'experience'-driven gut feelings. However, there is little if anything in their experience pointing to a track record.


First Impressions Get Faster
February 16, 2006; Page D4

In 1900, when romantic suitors got to know each other on front-porch swings, a first
impression was something arrived at by the end of an evening.

By 2000, we were sizing each other up at a far faster clip. Self-help gurus focused on the
crucial first five minutes of a relationship, and research into first impressions led to books
such as "How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less."

Well, nowadays, even those 90 seconds seem awfully quaint. According to a new study by
researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, people are registering likes and dislikes in as
little as 1/20th of a second.

"We are hard-wired to make up our minds very quickly," says Gitte Lindgaard, the
psychologist who led the study, in which people watched Web pages for a fleeting instant
and were able to form clear opinions about them.

Sure, humans have always made snap judgments. But as our culture swirls faster and
faster, first impressions are being indulged at hyperspeed. TV viewers can dispatch 60
unappealing shows in 60 seconds using a remote control. Singles engage in ultra-brief
encounters at "speed dating" sessions. Meanwhile, businesspeople are embracing the idea
that smart decisions can be made in seconds through "rapid cognition," a premise
explored in Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller "Blink."

Dizzy yet? You're not alone.

Some critics say it's time to slow down and reconsider our reliance on fast first
impressions. "They're important, but they're only part of our sensory data," says Michael
LeGault, author of "Think," a new book arguing that "crucial decisions can't be made in the
blink of an eye." He's concerned that we're now "a gut-level society," more apt to act on
impulse than to think things through.

It's as if we don't have time for second or third impressions. And that can lead to wrong
decisions, missed opportunities and an inability to recognize the potential love of your

I once interviewed a woman who, in 1952, received a phone call from a man she'd never
heard of. He'd gotten her number from a mutual friend, and asked for a date. His efforts to
sweet-talk her didn't go well. He was cocky and full of "intellectual jive," she told me. But
she agreed to meet him for lunch.

When he picked her up, her first impression of him was "how short he seems" and "how
unimpressive he looks." Still, she decided to set aside those first thoughts, and as she
spent time with him, she saw through his wild confidence, and found a sincere sense of
purpose. "He grew in stature," she said.

I've told this story to my teenage daughters when they've been quick to dismiss someone
at first glance. The woman's name was Coretta Scott. The man, whom she eventually
married, was Martin Luther King Jr. Had they met in 2006, at a speed-dating night, he
might have offered her a two-minute burst of cockiness, and she might have rolled her
eyes and rejected him.

In St. Louis, Scott Ginsberg, 26 years old, is now testing theories about first impressions.
For more than five years, every day, he has worn a nametag that says, "Hello, my name is

The former marketing student says the nametag allows people to develop a first
impression of him in seconds. His goal is to appear friendly and approachable, and to tap
into those instincts in others. Women who mock or ignore him probably aren't right for
him, he says. But those who engage in conversation about the nametag learn things about
him that lead beyond first impressions.

"I'll always wear the name tag. It's a lifelong experiment," vows Mr. Ginsberg, who now
gives lectures to corporations on "approachability." He's concerned that the first-
impression window keeps narrowing. "It's like a calculus equation. Will it eventually
approach zero?"

In a way, it has. These days, incoming college students check out each other's profiles via
Web sites such as MySpace. By the time they finally meet face to face on campus, no one is
new to each other, and it's too late to register a first impression. Opinions have been
formed. The opposite sex has been rated.

Within three minutes of meeting someone new, people today form an opinion about where
the future of the relationship is headed, according to a 2004 study co-written by
University of Minnesota-Duluth communications professor Michael Sunnafrank. "But it's a
self-fulfilling prophecy," he says. "The trajectory of the relationship is set."

This troubles him. "Look at all the failed marriages, where people thought they'd found
love at first sight." His research convinces him that "people need more time to make
lasting decisions."

So before you give a potential suitor a thumbs-down in 1/20th of a second, take at least
another 1/20th of a second to reconsider.

Write to Jeffrey Zaslow at jeffrey.zaslow@wsj.com1