CHICAGO–Should you trust your gut? Not unless you can answer these three questions.
Writing on Inc.com, Jessica Stillman asked whether gut instincts are “the brilliant distillation of all our wisdom and experience, or just an expression of our brain's laziness and biases?” Do they lead us to oversimplify and stereotype or help us avoid danger before we can even fully process the threat? she asked.
While the argument is ongoing, Stillman pointed to work done by Daniel Kahneman, who summed up the position of intuition skeptics in Thinking, Fast and Slow, who posits that whether to trust or be skeptical of one’s gut depends on context, and that one should ask three questions, first.
Stillman notes that Kahneman said the problem with gut instincts -- or what he terms “our brain’s fast thinking ‘system one’” is that it “relies on rules of thumb that often turn out to be wildly wrong.”
“We try to get a handle on how common something is by how many examples of that thing we can remember, for example,” wrote Stillman. “The problem with this is that it leads us to wildly overestimate the frequency of highly memorable but actually extremely rare occurrences, like airplane crashes. As Kahneman explains in his book, our intuition is riddled with these errors.”
On the other hand, intuition isn’t totally useless, she added.
Three Questions to Ask
To find a path forward, Kahenman aid people should ask themselves this trio of questions before following their gut:
- Is there actually some regularity in this area you can pick up and learn? Intuition develops from experience, so in order for your gut to spot trends and patterns, reliable trends and patterns must actually exist. What areas of life have sufficient regularity for our brains to develop accurate intuitions? "Chess players certainly have it. Married people certainly have it," Kahnemen said. However, the stock market is simply too noisy and irregular for anyone to understand on gut instinct.
- Have you had a lot of practice in this area? Again, successful intuitions are born of long observation of environments with some level of pattern and regularity. Good gut instincts therefore require a lot of practice -- and we're not talking just a few weeks. Years and years or experience, like the fire chief had under his belt, are generally needed.
- Do you receive immediate feedback in the area? Practice isn't just about doing something over and over again. You can saw away badly at the violin for years and never come any closer to being able to play Beethoven. For practice to work you also need feedback, and not just any kind of feedback. Psychology shows the kind that works best is immediate and concrete. If you want to train your intuition, "you have to know almost immediately whether you got it right or got it wrong," Kahneman explained.