Tag Archives: Malcolm Gladwell

“Productive Pause”, Intuition for Better Decisions

Everyday wisdom offers familiar advice to curtail impulsivity through slowing down and reflecting:

  • “Go slow to go fast”
  • “Sleep on it”
  • “Wait before sending an emotional email”
  • “Count to 10, think again”
Frank Partnoy

Frank Partnoy

Former investment banker and lawyer Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay provides empirical evidence on the value of delay to increase the quality of decisions and performance across investment, sports, comedy, and other disciplines.Wait

Creativity experts have demonstrated the importance of an “incubation period” in developing innovative solutions, and Partnoy suggests that similar principles provide and advantage: gathering maximum information in uncertain situations, by executing decisions and performance close to the last opportunity.

University of San Diego’s Partnoy recommends a three step approach to decision-making:

1) Determine the maximum time available to gather information and take the decision
2) Consider, reflect, “incubate” on the information as long as possible
3) Act quickly at the last possible moment

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

His approach could be summarized by referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking : “Don’t just blink but think.”

Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady

Gladwell argues that people with expert experience and insight are often skilled at using ‘adaptive unconscious’ intuition to “thin-slice” subtle cues to filter relevant information from “noise,” a concept based on Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal’s research at Harvard.

Justin Albrechtsen

Justin Albrechtsen

Christian Meissner

Christian Meissner

Research by Justin Albrechtsen, Christian Meissner, and Kyle Susa  of University of Texas at El Paso demonstrated “thin-slicing” when they found that intuitive processing can lead to more accurate judgments of deception when compared with deliberative processing.

Kyle Susa

Kyle Susa

Gladwell and these researchers acknowledge that non-experts, and even experts, can be make erroneous decisions due to bias and prejudice that comes from automatic thinking and habitual cognitive heuristics like the halo effect.

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson

Gerard Hodgkinson of Leeds University found that biased intuitive judgment may be mitigated by “devil’s advocacy” and applying analytical tools like multi-attribute decision analysis and root cause analysis.

He suggests that informed intuition or ‘intelligent-unconscious’ results from subconscious information storage, processing and retrieval, and has conducted several empirical studies to evaluate its mechanisms applied to developing business strategies.

Intuitive judgment was positively correlated with quality and speed of decisions, organizational financial and non-financial performance in at least five studies.

Hodgkinson’s team summarized recent advances in neuroscience, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies to explain complementary intuitive and analytical approaches to decision making  instead of the overly-simplified notion of left brain vs right brain processing  strengths.

He synthesized intuition attributes:

  • Instantaneous insight after incubation period
  • Subjective judgments
  • Based on experience, tacit knowledge, “knowing without knowing
  • Arise through rapid, non-conscious holistic associations
  • Affectively-charged: “feels right”, experienced as ‘‘inklings’’ or ‘‘glimmerings’’
  • Lacking verbalization or conscious awareness of problem solving.

Cognitive neuroscientists have differentiated intuition from instinct and insight using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques.

Instinct refers to hardwired, autonomous reflex actions, whereas insight involves recognizing and articulating a problem’s structure, and may follow from intuition.

Hodgkinson’s research suggests that intuition can be enhanced by increasing:

  • Expertise (“prepared mind” or ‘‘deep smarts’’)
  • Self-awareness (feeling and cognitive style)
  • Reflection
Akio Morita

Akio Morita

His team’s research supports an assertion by Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony and driving force behind its successful Sony Walkman, that ‘‘creativity requires something more than the processing of information. It requires human thought, spontaneous intuition and a lot of courage.’’

-*How have you used pauses or intuition to strengthen decision-making and advance business innovation?

Related Posts

©Kathryn Welds


How Can Dance Inform Business Thinking?

Peter Lovatt

Peter Lovatt founded the Dance Psychology Lab at the University of Hertfordshire, which combines his performance experience as a professional dancer with his training as a research psychologist.

In several TED talks, he marvels at his career trajectory because he “was rubbish at school,” and was relegated to Special Education classes, probably due to his undiagnosed ADHD.

His career demonstrates an innovative synthesis of disciplines with his current research agenda investigating the impact of dance on problem solving using divergent thinking and convergent thinking strategies.

Peter Lovatt at TED

Lovatt’s experiments demonstrated that volunteers who engaged in improvised dance movements solved divergent thinking problems more quickly than when they performed more structured dance maneuvers, or no movement at all.

Similarly, his work showed these volunteers increased their speed of solving convergent thinking problems after they engaged in choreographed dance moves.

These findings may not imply that innovation teams should engage in structured and unstructured movements at work, but it does support the positive impact of dance movement on neural processing speed and problem solving.

Lovatt extended this work to patients with Parkinson’s disease, known to disrupt divergent thinking processes, to validate his findings with normal volunteers.
He demonstrated that Parkinson’s disease patients improved the divergent thinking problem solving after they engaged in improvised dance sequences, and hypothesized that these patients develop new neural pathways to “work around” dopamine-depleted blockages.

Peter Lovatt leading dance experiment

Lovatt’s group found increases in self-esteem among participants in dance styles that:

  • Include more improvisational elements (“high degree of tolerance for not getting it right”),
  • Are gender or culturally neutral
  • Raise the heart rate
  • Are repetitive
  • Encourage looser fitting clothes (in contrast to ballet)
  • Are non-competitive

Related Post on impact of dance:
Oxytocin Increases Empathic Work Relationships, Workplace Trust, Generosity 

Twyla Tharp

MacArthur Fellowship and Tony Award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp discussed innovation and collaboration through the lens of dance in two books with lessons applicable to business.

In The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life she asserts that creative expression requires perseverance, practice, hard work, “showing up,” and cultivating systematic habits to act upon innovative initiative.

This echoes the action-orientation advocated by Malcolm Gladwell in his observation of 10,000 hours of practice to develop virtuoso performance and by sports psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, summarized in these related posts:

Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together discusses both how collaboration can change the participants, and practical approaches to collaborative creation – which she acknowledges has not been completely smooth in some of her work with luminaries including Richard Avedon, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bob Dylan, Milos Forman,  Norma Kamali, Frank Sinatra.
Two related posts on Collaboration are:

Dance provides a fresh perspective and metaphor for business challenges including problem solving, innovation, and collaboration.

-*How do you react to Lovatt’s and Tharp’s application of movement in problem solving, collaboration and innovation?

Biases in Unconscious Automatic Mental Processing, and “Work-Arounds”

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow

Leonard Mlodinow’s Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior reviews evidence of automatic, out-of-awareness brain processing that handles emotional experience and routine task execution, in the same vein as  best sellers by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow) and writer Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking).

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

All three authors outline the potential costs of rapid mental processing: error and bias in perception and decision-making, which are less present during mindful analytic problem-solving.

Mlodinow, a Physics Professor at CalTech, has collaborated with Stephen Hawking on two books, and like Kahneman and Gladwell, is a talented storyteller who explains implications of laboratory-based research on cognition and brain functioning.

Carol Tavris

Carol Tavris

Psychologist Carol Tavris discusses the cost of similar biases in cognitive processing in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, 

Numerous studies of erroneous eyewitness testimony demonstrate that memory is constructed of fragmentary elements “stitched” together to form a cohesive narrative.
This contrasts the notion that memory is a “snapshot” replica of an event.

Opportunities for cognitive error are apparent in this Constructivist view of perception and cognition.

Most authors suggest “mindful” practices to counteract inherent biases in cognitive short-cuts, consciously focusing in present perceptions and experiences.

Mlodinow’s previous book, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, demystifies the use of statistics in everyday life, and prepares readers with considered questions to avoid mis-judgments based on seemingly convincing quantitative data.

He demonstrates the prevalence of chance influences in life outcomes, and the pervasive illusion that people have control over many more outcomes than they actually do.

Mlodinow reminds readers that “success” and “failure” contain random influences, and “success” is more dependent on persistence and maintaining an optimistic outlook than raw ability.

-*What practices have helped you mitigate potential cognitive bias associated with rapid mental processing and cognitive “short-cuts”?

*Related posts:

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Developing a SMARTER Mindset for Resilience, Emotional Intelligence – Part 2

Carol Dweck

Stanford professor Carol Dweck distilled Salvador Maddi’s three mindsets into two mindsets in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

She differentiated:
• Fixed Mindset – Belief that personal capabilities are given, fixed, limited to present capacities.
This “nature” mindset can lead to fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness.
• Growth Mindset– Belief that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, confronting and correcting mistakes. This “nurture” mindset enables teamwork and collaboration.
K. Anders Ericcson

K. Anders Ericcson

Research by K. Anders Ericsson demonstrated that highly skilled experts in nearly every field are distinguished from their talented peers by practice.
Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell asserted that expert performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice.

The Road to Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games

Expert Performance in Sports: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise

Although mindsets consist of relatively stable beliefs, they can be modified by reinforcing, praising, and rewarding performance strategy and process, not the resulting outcome.

Cynthia Kivland

Cynthia Kivland

Cynthia Kivland introduced a practice of “vetting emotions” using a three step process to investigate and manage emotions

• Validate – Name the emotion
• Explore – What is the broader context?
What are the familiar reaction patterns?
• Tolerate – Transform limiting emotions into information and intelligence to move forward

“Cognitive appraisal” refers to evaluative elements of thoughts, and can provoke emotions.
This type of appraisal is based on three factors, outlined by eminent researcher

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

• Personalization of cause, responsibility: Internal control vs External control
• Pervasiveness of event and impact: Specific vs Global
• Permanence of event and impact: Temporary vs. Continuing

Kivland suggested that mindsets and related attitudes can direct individuals to either of two paths:

• Surviving Path, based on reactive, fearful protecting from anticipated danger

• Hope Path, proactive, thriving, growing, able to let go of fears, observe emotions as information for decision-making rather than as unpleasant experiences to be tolerated

Kivland, Dweck, Maddi, Ericcson, Seligman, and other advocates of Emotional Intelligence practices suggest benefits of the Hope Path.

Dweck model and the mindset of positive psychology

Dweck’s Brainology software for students

Related Post:
Developing a SMARTER Mindset to increase Resilience, Emotional Intelligence – Part 1

-*What “mindsets” help you achieve optimal performance in work and life activities?

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