When to trust your gut

Harv Bus Rev. 2001 Feb;79(2):58-65, 155.


Many top executives say they routinely make big decisions without relying on any logical analysis. Instead, they call upon their "intuition," "gut instinct," "hunches," or "inner voice"--but they can't describe the process much more than that. What exactly is gut instinct? In this article, author Alden Hayashi interviews top executives from companies such as America Online and Johnson and Johnson to find out how they make decisions. Hayashi also presents the research of leading scientists who suggest that our emotions and feelings might not only be important in our intuitive ability to make good decisions but may actually be essential. Specifically, one theory contends that our emotions help us filter various options quickly, even if we're not consciously aware of the screening. Other research suggests that professional judgment can often be reduced to patterns and rules; indeed, truly inspired decisions seem to require an ability to see similar patterns across disparate fields. A CEO who possesses that ability can craft a perfect strategy by detecting patterns that others either overlook or mistake for random noise. But various traits of human nature can easily cloud our intuitive decision making. One potential pitfall is our tendency to see patterns where none exist. Thus, continual self-checking and feedback are crucial, and some organizations have made these processes part of their corporate culture.

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel / psychology*
  • Decision Making, Organizational*
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • United States