Is There Such a Thing as Good Gut Decisions?

February 26, 2009
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brain in stomach

Thinking and Emotions are Inextricably Linked

It’s long been known that real-life decision-making involves more than just data and logic. For example, people that have lost their sense of emotions find it impossible to make even simple decisions.

Donald Norman (author of the classic "The Design of Everyday Things"), in a Scientific American article called "Why Machines Should Fear", explains:

‘Emotion was traditionally ignored as some leftover from our animal heritage… It turns out that’s not true. We now know, for example, that people who have suffered damage to the prefrontal lobes so that they can no longer show emotions are very intelligent and sensible, but they cannot make decisions.’

"Emotion… is an information processing system, similar to but distinct from cognition. With cognition we understand and interpret the world–which takes time.. Emotion works much more quickly, and its role is to make judgments–this is good, that is bad, this is safe."

Not only does emotion help shade rational decision, "gut thinking" is a very real physical phenomena. Malcolm Gladwell’s book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without T

brain in stomach

Thinking and Emotions are Inextricably Linked

It’s long been known that real-life decision-making involves more than just data and logic. For example, people that have lost their sense of emotions find it impossible to make even simple decisions.

Donald Norman (author of the classic "The Design of Everyday Things"), in a Scientific American article called "Why Machines Should Fear", explains:

‘Emotion was traditionally ignored as some leftover from our animal heritage… It turns out that’s not true. We now know, for example, that people who have suffered damage to the prefrontal lobes so that they can no longer show emotions are very intelligent and sensible, but they cannot make decisions.’

"Emotion… is an information processing system, similar to but distinct from cognition. With cognition we understand and interpret the world–which takes time.. Emotion works much more quickly, and its role is to make judgments–this is good, that is bad, this is safe."

Not only does emotion help shade rational decision, "gut thinking" is a very real physical phenomena. Malcolm Gladwell’s book "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," refers to the "Second Mind" that runs our rapid decision-making system.

"Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings–thoughts and impressions that don’t seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It’s thinking–its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with "thinking."

A Second Brain in Your Stomach

Now researchers may have find the organ responsible for this thinking. According to a recent study, we may literally have a "second brain" in our stomachs — two layers of complexly-connected nerve cells linked to the intestine. (Many thanks to David Meyer of the Decision Velocity Blog for the link.)

"People often follow their gut reactions without even knowing why. It’s only later that they come up with the logical reason for acting the way they did. But we now believe that there is a lot more to gut feelings than was previously believed."

So What Do We Do About It?

We have to realize that just providing information isn’t enough for effective decision making. We all have a lot more work to do to make sure that business intelligence actually leads to better real-life decisions. 

I posted last year about how "sound judgment" was one of "The 5 Ingredients of Good Decision Making", based on a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. As technology develops, expect to see more of these ingredients supported by new, more collaborative decision technology.

In the meantime, here’s a repost of one of my old cartoons:

 

gut feel biggest