In the last minutes before Wall Street’s closing bell on Friday, a professional stock broker known for his nerves of steel suddenly dumps his high-risk portfolio, seemingly without regard to price or loss. At the bar that night, his colleagues openly rib him about his uncharacteristic behavior. When he admits he didn’t have any research to back-up the trades, they privately wonder if “he has lost his nerve.” The picture looked even worse as foreign markets remained stable the following Monday morning, but that afternoon, foreign markets began to drop. The United States markets were closed for the President’s Day holiday, when they reopened on Tuesday, the United States markets would fall. The “skittish” stock broker had been right, but how?
Perhaps due to the recent economic turmoil, the past months have seen a resurgence of interest in the ideals of “gut reactions,” intuition and other versions of the insight methods described by Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink!” Business leaders, CEO’s, physicians, disaster field responders, professional speakers and business consultants use both linear and non-linear decision-making (logic & intuition) to create “Blink” moments daily.
Most people know the linear decision making process because it is cultivated by our educational system. It is a system based on the collection of data to support a decision (If A and B then C, but if A and not B then D). Few people realize that we are all born as innately non-linear thinkers.
What Goes Into a “Blink” Moment?
Non-linear process is a four step process consisting of:
1) Pattern Recognition
2) Acknowledging Framing Bias
3) Heuristic Introspection
Pattern recognition is seeing the patterns and processes behind everything you do and have done. Remember that those with the greatest potential are those who are the most adaptable to any circumstance. They innately understand the process that underlies any other person’s success and can replicate it with ease. By comparing the current circumstance to past situations, one can more accurately predict the result of a particular action or intervention.
Acknowledge Framing Bias
Think about what happens before a manager goes into a meeting or a doctor enters an examination room. Rarely will people walk into the situation “cold.” They are briefed on who they’re going to meet and what they’re supposed to accomplish. They draw certain preconceptions, which are called a framing bias.
As long as you know what your framing bias is upfront, then you can allow the situation to develop organically. With framing bias recognized, you can account for your feelings and your impressions, using them as an analytical tool. That’s the essence of heuristics—taking your feelings and impressions and using them analytically.
Before you can fully immerse yourself in another’s viewpoint, you must see with “fresh eyes.” First, identify what your preconceptions are about the situation. Second, once you’ve identified them, clear your mind and explore the experience for the first time. What’s your first impression? Are you reacting to your preconceived ideas or because you are looking at the situation through fresh eyes? This is not easy. “Fresh eyes” come from the subtraction of your framing bias from your overall impression and perception of the situation. Through this process the patterns that you are comparing are more distinct and in sharper relief.
Heuristic introspection is a non-linear thought process in which you must “be your customer”. Much like how a fine artist “knows” if a painting or musical composition “works” by going with their “gut,” you and your employees should “know” what a customer wants.
Heuristic Introspection is based on the concept that as a member of a community, cultural group and larger society, you are a microcosm of each. Although many traditional sciences scoff at a “sample size of one,” other sciences find that by truly understanding the one sample available, conclusions can be extrapolated about the group as a whole. Since you are a microcosm of your world, perceiving and reacting as your peers would, introspection allows insight into your larger social group.
When you think heuristically, you truly understand the customers’ wants and needs. The next time you want to know how your customers would feel about a particular product or service, adapt a non-linear (heuristic) research approach and become a part of your study base. Your focus group of one (you) will guide your initial thought process toward reaching your customers.
Empathy is quite literally to “walk a mile in the shoes of our customers,” that is to become one with your customers. You will best understand others by understanding their feeling. While Heuristic Introspection allows you to extrapolate the feelings of others based on your feelings (sympathy), Empathy allows you to understand their feelings by being accepting of their feelings. Empathy is the art of emotional listening.
Helping Yourself Blink!
How can you now translate what you’ve discovered into a reproducible decision?
If you’re developing an ad for jogging shoes, you need to think like a runner—even if you’re not one. Why do people run? What is important to runners? How does running make people feel? After you’ve collected your personal research, you’ll be able to speak in the first person as a runner. Pretend you’re one of those successful fiction authors writing under a pseudonym. Tell your story like you live it. Now your customers will be able to personally connect with you because you’ve become one of them.
Become part of the story, even if you aren’t part of the product story. Generally, people like and dislike the same things. If not, you’d never have to wait in line for your favorite roller coaster at an amusement park. What do you feel? Listen to your emotions—chances are your customers’ gut would tell them the same thing. You may not identify with the problem, but you’ll know what you need to do to make it feel “right.”
Why do people underestimate the power of nonlinear decision making?
There are two reasons that nonlinear decision making and inductive reasoning are less valued than linear decision making and deductive reasoning. Both are based on the misperception that nonlinear decision making and inductive reasoning are inherently irreproducible, unverifiable, unpredictable and thus unreliable.
- Despite that fact that humans are born as empathic, introspective and unbiased “pattern recognition machines,” the vast majority become linear deductive decision makers. Through their educational experiences and the very basis of our scientific society, deductive is valued over inductive and linear over nonlinear.
- Once the nonlinear and inductive skills are atrophied, those that undervalue what they can no longer do easily (nonlinear decision making) believe that these skills are unlearnable. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Pattern Recognition is an innate human function that ensures our survival in infancy and aids in our safety in daily living. It is easily taught and augmented.
Acknowledging Framing Bias is not an innate function, but is very learnable and since it does not require the shedding of bias, is also readily implemented.
Heuristic Introspection is partially innate. All humans are born with a degree of introspection especially when dealing with ones own needs. Walking in the shoes of another is not an innate behavior, but understanding our reaction in that situation and using that information is trainable.
Empathy is yet another innate function that ensures our ability to identify and even predict the emotional impact of an event on others. Empathy is a practiced skill and the strength of one’s empathy grows as one exercises that empathy.
In short the problem is not that “gut” is unreliable or “sample size of one” is too small. The problem is in those who devalue this innate human ability.
“The fault lies not in our stars Horatio, but in ourselves.”
- William Shakespeare