Intuition manifests itself in almost all people in the same way: it is fast, appears effortless and need not be consulted. How intuition comes into being and with which logic it is determined is not accessible to the conscious mind; nonetheless, intuition communicates with a conscious impulse that everyone can perceive.
In my lectures at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, the INeKO-Institute at the University of Cologne as well as in free workshops and in companies, 4,000 participants unanimously identified intuition as fast with 91%, as effortless with 95%, as unrequested with 96% and as unconscious with 78%.
The corrections (red arrows) result from the individual’s interpretation of the given intuition. In all workshops, there are participants, who confuse the later contradiction in the decision-making process with the earlier impulse from their intuition. The split between head or gut (intuition) and solutions in thought cycles is subsequently perceived by this participant as well in general as exhausting and slow. If the participants were concentrated on the first impulse, the intuition was recognized as fast and effortless. The relatively low significance, at 78%, of those conscious of their intuition has been seen to result from the uncertain terrain between the intuitive impulse itself and the logic of how this impulse arises. Many relate their response to the cognitive follow-up processes by which they create a coherent world view.
In fact, some participants have access to the origin of intuition: its source being the logic of emotions and know why intuition has decided the way it has. The characteristics that each person intuitively perceives coincide with the findings of the corresponding emotion system.
What is the intuition?
Intuition is the result of the emotional system. Various studies by scientists (Darwin 1859, Kornhuber and Deecke 1964, Libet 1983, LeDoux 2000, Klein 2003, Damásio 2013, Kahneman 2011, Feldman Barrett 2020) have measured the emotion system and its neurological areas as fast, effortless (the emotional system is not accessible to the conscious mind) and unrequested (there is no conscious entity in the emotion system).
Intuition arises from movement
The emotion system has evolved as a movement system and produces a movement impulse, which in the autopilot mode (see emotive decision below) is executed in a direct movement. Intuition is thus a decision based on the logic of the emotions from which, neurobiologically speaking, a movement is formed.
How can intuition be recognized with a high degree of selectivity?
Intuition can be recognized very easily by means of two criteria. Firstly, intuition is characterized by the clearly perceivable movement impulse (“No-go” or “Go”), which is cognitively interpreted as “Yes” or “No”. Secondly, the speed of approximately 350 milliseconds (Libet 1983) distinguishes the intuitive decision from all other human forms of decision making.
Intuition can be perceived in the inseparability between emotions, intuition and cognition, the KiE trilogy, even before the conscious coherent world view is built up.
In a window of time of just under one second (Libet 300 to 550 milliseconds), the intuitive impulse can be perceived with a high degree of selectivity before the conscious coherent world view is merged in the emotive-cognitive cycle.
Intuition represents a very reliable and, above all, a fast decision, independently of its meaning and quality for the current situation (external stimulus). Unfortunately, it is very limited in the possibilities of its expression, which do not extend beyond “No” and “Yes”. Due to the logic of the emotions, the “No” (No-go) is perceived earlier because in the emotional sequence fear and its accompanying rigidity were evolutionarily formed first.
A central feature of the intuitive decision is clearly visible. It does not come a reason with the intuitive impulse. A reason as a coherent world view has not yet been established. A reason would force emotive-cognitive cycles into action, and one could no longer assess the meaning of intuition.
Can the explanation of intuition be so simple?
Yes, it must be that simple from my point of view. A phenomenon so comprehensive and effective can only be simple. If intuition were complex, analytical procedures would have demystified this phenomenon by now. Intuition, which until now has been so vague and so infinitely diverse, is easy to describe with the inseparability of decision systems. The consequences, however, are enormous and important questions will be easy to answer. Since we all have an emotion system, everyone has intuition. It is therefore no longer a question of whether people can learn the conscious use of intuition, but only a question of how this may be done. Intuition is an evolutionary adaptation in terms of its neuronal structures, so it is available to every human being. When it appears, it can only be ignored or rejected.
Perception, instead, can be trained for a fine differentiation. Above all, the self-understanding for the conscious use of intuition can be learned and thus the integration into tried and tested DecisionMaking tools made possible.
The quality of intuitive decision making
If, on the one hand, cognition and intuition show both unsatisfactory and appropriate results, the question of which is better is no longer relevant.
Regardless of the quality of the content, the low level of differentiation with “no” and “yes” limits the applicability enormously. How often has the ill-justified objection “no, I do not believe in the success of the project, but I cannot (yet) say why” been rejected in order to serve in retrospect as the justification and excuse, “I knew it after all”, in case of failure.
For some, intuition represents pure irrationality and for others it serves as a normal tool of the trade, as was already the case with Plato (428 -348 BC). René Descartes (1596 – 1650), the founder of modern neoclassical rationalism, understood intuition as “an effortless and clearly defined understanding of the attentive mind”. Baruch de Spinoza (1632 to 1677) elevated intuition to the highest of three types of knowledge. Later on, intuition was eliminated from many sciences and has taken on a new meaning in the current discussion about decisions in the areas of uncertainty, the cognitive biases, and gut decisions.
The quality of the decision caused by the intuition is based partially on the stimulus and emotional arousal; above all, this quality the result of the so-called “emotional experience memory”, which is corrected in the KiE trilogy as neuronal emotional programs (neP).
The dynamics in the interaction of these three dimensions, which are in and of themselves again highly dynamic, make intuition seem so complex. For example, not only do emotions (neP) have one functional and two dysfunctional areas; they also consist of so-called experienced knowledge, when assessed cognitively:
If the input parameters of the external stimulus and the emotional arousal are kept stable, intuition provides largely repeatable decisions. Intuition is supposedly so difficult to grasp because the coherent world view is constantly being re-formed in the emotive-cognitive cycles and because both the external stimulus and the coherent world view influence emotional arousal.
How to influence quality
In order to use intuition meaningfully as a conscious decision, the knowledge about the KiE trilogy and its effects must first be built up so that all three parameters are well-formed. A variety of mindfulness and regulation methods are available for emotional arousal. The external and internal stimuli can be made clear, focused and repeatable. The KiE scale performs outstanding services for these requirements. (More information on the KiE Scale can be found in the article series DecisionMaking Tools). The emotional memory of experience, which does not correspond to rational and cognitive concepts, is a broad field.
The currently favored approaches to the use of intuition for special situations such as decisions under uncertainty are understandable; these, however, have shown only modest use if one assumes that intuition always and reliably decides.
DecisionMaking processes, which integrate intuition structurally and as a separate tool, have proven a very concrete and constructive approach, both individually and in teams, favorably effecting all three influencing factors.
Importance for the traditional world and for the agile way of working
Intuition alone is not necessarily the best form of decision making in today’s world, evolutionarily speaking, but it is the most important because it is at work in every decision, whether we perceive it or not. For this simple reason, intuitive decision making should be integrated into decision making processes for decision makers and teams.
Intuition takes on special importance in the Agile-Way-of-Working, when teams work together openly, focused and with 100% participation on an equal level. In conjunction with the DecisionMaking processes in which intuition is integrated, the potential of agile methods can be fully exploited by promoting the speed, quality and collaboration of agile events and artifacts in equal measure so that people have the chance to do well.
The intuitive decision , embedded in practical DecisionMaking tools, should be learned and used as a tool by decision makers.
What intuition is not
If you sense a feeling that goes beyond the physical impulse, or if the sequence of explanation, reasoning or even of justification has already imposed itself, you have already entered into cognition and into further emotive-cognitive cycles. Intuition is thus hidden and devalued as a conscious form of decision.
This effect is intensified by the emotive-cognitive cycles, which in just a few seconds into the next cycle create a new result by means of the external stimulus as well as the coherent world view as the internal stimulus. This characteristic of the KiE trilogy, combined with the emotive-cognitive cycles, settles the debate on intuition that has been going on in all cultures for thousands of years.
Simply put, if you hear a voice and an explanation comes to mind; or if a remembrance or vision or any other conscious expression manifests itself, you are in the realm of cognition and no longer in that of intuition.
The intuitive decision is not based on heuristics and is unsuitable as a conscious substitute for intuition. Heuristics should be seen for what they are, as cognitive decisions made according to simple rules that justifiably play their role in the decision discussion.
However, the intuitive decision has no clear reason. Once a coherent world view has been established, we are dealing with an emotive-cognitive decision (see series of articles). The coherent world view is rarely true, but always consistent, in the sense that the results from the emotion and cognitive systems have been brought together. If the impulse from the emotion system does not match the perception and imagination, the reasoning will often have nothing to do with reality. This incongruity can have various causes due to the lack of fit: to the autopilot, to the imagined as well as perceived effect, to one’s own feelings as well as to bodily feedback.
(see article 272 How we decide, perceive, think and act must be rewritten)
How can intuition be distinguished from gut feeling?
The discussion about gut feeling (Gigerenzer 2015) has become acceptable and increasingly accepted in individual, economic, political and social discussions. The gut decision is essentially the same as intuition. But one should be careful with the gut feeling; that is, when a feeling is perceived, emotive-cognitive cycles have probably already been gone through.
Intuition appears without feeling at low emotional arousal. The feeling as an accompanying effect becomes stronger during emotional arousal and the intuition is no longer usable, starting at an emotional arousal of (5).
The neurosciences have adopted this form of decision making and hope is strong that the demystification of this valuable form of decision making will continue.
How can creativity and visions be classified?
In general language use, but also in the cognitive sciences and in philosophical and spiritual settings, intuition is considered a source of ideas, creativity and visions.
It should be noted that the results of intuition, such as an idea, inspiration, implicit knowledge, vision, introspection, the flash of inspiration or idea, are again the consciously processed result in the cognitive system, the coherent world view.
Within this framework, intuition claims and deserves this prominent position. This article focuses on human forms of decision making. Ideation and creativity precede decision-making in the classical value creation process, in which intuition plays a central role with emotive-cognitive cycles. Limiting the intuitive decision for this reason would reduce its potential; as Henry Poincaré (1854 to 1912) put it: “Through logic we prove something, but through intuition we discover something.
To regard intuition as an individual truth gives it too much importance for the constructivist view of our time.
Intuition’s spiritual meaning as divine reality and spiritual experience is not discussed in this article.
Why we should not blindly follow intuition and not ignore it
Why one should not blindly follow the intuitive decision is obvious. Its origin in and its dependence on and susceptibility to experienced knowledge and emotional arousal requires embedding in DecisionMaking processes. We can only follow intuition if we consciously perceive it, which is only the case in a low percentage of cases.
Similarly, we should not ignore it because the intuitive decision has outstanding qualities that we should consciously make use of; it is fast, guaranteed and distinctive. But more importantly, intuition is at work in every decision, regardless of whether it is consciously perceived or not.
The most important reason, however, is the fact that in the vast majority of our decisions, which is the emotive decision at over 90% of decisions, intuition seems inaccessible to the conscious mind. In the autopilot we do not perceive it; yet, in the rare situation where we perceive the intuitive decision, we can recognize its quality and shape it accordingly so that it leads the autopilot in the direction that is appropriate for us and for our environment for the majority of our decision.
Again, DecisionMaking processes are the best choice for both the conscious use and shaping of intuition.
The intuitive decision is a conscious decision
Perception is a cognitive process and therefore intuition is part of the conscious decision. Every person, regardless of gender, age and position, is equipped with this reliable and conscious form of decision making. Contrary to popular opinion, women do not have stronger intuition, but they use it more naturally.
The quality of intuition in general has been discussed in a polarising way throughout human history and cannot and should not be described with rational logic. The logic from which the intuitive decision is made cannot be explained or evaluated by rational or cognitive reasoning. A comparison with the rational decision, which is often used as the opposing argument, is theoretical and non-human, since the rational decision does not exist as a form of human decision (see below in the series of articles).
The intuitive decision should be seen for what it is, as an autonomous decision from the emotion system, which is consciously perceived. How the underlying logic of emotions can be deciphered with the help of the perceptible impulse and the accompanying feeling of emotion, requires the knowledge of the inseparability of emotions, intuition and cognition, the KiE trilogy.
Due to this inseparability, intuition works in every decision and should oblige every decision maker and especially agile teams to integrate intuition into decision-making processes.
Human decision making and DecisionMaking
All individual decisions are derived from the KiE trilogy, the natural human decision-making process. The logic of the emotions is always at work, in every form of decision because the emotion system is the first to be run through. Thus, the emotion system is the origin and end of all thinking. The emotive-cognitive cycles are significantly influenced by emotional arousal and appear in 13 different human decision forms.
The inseparability of emotions, intuition and cognition, the KiE trilogy, serves Graf as a design guideline for practice-oriented decision-making processes that allow individuals and teams to make good decisions safely and promptly. K-i-E and the standardizing tools are refined and consolidated in a cyclical process with individuals and teams.
More about the series of articles on human decision making
Further articles about the different human decision forms can be found after the source below under tags “Article series human decision forms”.
More about the series Artificial Intelligence
More articles about artificial intelligence and how it can be extended with KiE can be found after the sources below at tag “Artificial Intelligence“.
April 2020, Richard Graf, Elsa Graf
„Never ignore your intuition, but do not blindly follow it.” Richard Graf
Barrett, Lisa Feldman. How emotions are made: The secret life of the brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Ciompi, Luc: Die emotionalen Grundlagen des Denkens – Entwurf einer fraktalen Affektlogik. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016
Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby. Evolutionary psychology and the emotions. Handbook of emotions 2.2 (2000)
Damásio, Antonio R.: Descartes’ Irrtum: Fühlen – Denken und das menschliche Gehirn, List, 1994
Damásio, Antonio, and Gil B. Carvalho. The nature of feelings: evolutionary and neurobiological origins. Nature reviews neuroscience 14.2 (2013): 143-152.
Darwin, Charles. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or. The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, London (1859).
Darwin, Charles: The Expression of the Emotions, John Murry, London, 1872, Page 38
Feldman Barrett, Lisa; Satpute, Ajay B.: Historical pitfalls and new directions in the neuroscience of emotion, Lisa Feldman Barrett a,b,∗, Ajay B. Satpute, Neuroscience Letter (2017)
Gigerenzer, Gerd. Risiko. Wie man die richtigen Entscheidungen trifft 2 (2013): 147-151.
Graf, Richard. Die neue Entscheidungskultur: Mit gemeinsam getragenen Entscheidungen zum Erfolg. Carl Hanser Verlag München 2018.
Joseph E. LeDoux: The Emotional Brain, Simon and Schuster, New York (1996)
Kahneman, Daniel: Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.
Klein, Gary: The Power of Intuition, Random House, 2003
Kornhuber, Hans Helmut; Deecke, Lüder (1964): Hirnpotentialänderungen beim Menschen vor und nach Willkürbewegungen, dargestellt mit Magnetbandspeicherung und Rückwärtsanalyse. In: Pflügers Arch. 281, 1964, S. 52
LeDoux, Joseph E.: Emotion circuits in the brain. Annual review of neuroscience 23.1 (2000): 155-184.
Libet, Benjamin, et al. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). Neurophysiology of Consciousness. Birkhäuser, Boston, MA, 1983. 249-268.
Nick Chatter: The mind is flat: the illusion of mental depth and the improvised mind. Penguin UK, 2018.
Simon, A. Herbert: Administrative Behavior. A Study of Decision-making Processes in Administrative Organization…. Macmillan, 1965
Zsambok, Caroline E.; Klein, Gary: Naturalistic decision making. Psychology Press, 2014