• January 2015

Andy Hines Offers Insight on the Connection Between Foresight and Intuition

By Andy Hines
Futurist and Author of “ConsumerShift”
Founder, Hinesight

In doing the research for my book, ConsumerShift, I investigated the concept of intuition.

My favorite source was a book by research psychologist Dr. Gary Klein: The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work.

Klein defines intuition as “the way we translate our experience into action.”

His point is that intuition derives from experience, thus we tend to be better at intuition in areas in which we have a lot of experience.

I’ll bet that many of us who lead workshops, for instance, have discovered that as we’ve gotten more experience, we “just know” when to make certain adjustments or feel comfortable using certain approaches on the fly. We trust our intuition because we have a lot of experience to draw on.

As many have noted, however, this type of knowledge is by no means infallible. I’m sure we all could tell a few stories about when our “adjustments” fell flat, but for the most part, I’d say it usually works out.

On using intuition at work, Klein says: “Our experience lets us recognize what is going on (making judgments) and how to react (making decisions). … We can therefore make decisions more rapidly and without conscious awareness or effort.”

He adds an appropriate caution: “We need intuition — balanced with analysis because intuition is fallible.” So it’s not either/or, but both/and.

See the figure below for a cool model of how Klein sees the process working. (The “Recognition-Primed Decision Model” diagram is from the master’s thesis of John E. DeFoor, for the Joint Forces Staff College, May 2007, drawn from “The Power of Intuition,” p. 26.)

The key steps can be summarized like this:

Situation-> generates-> cues-> that let you recognize-> patterns-> that activate-> action scripts-> which you assess by-> mental simulation-> using your-> mental models-> to affect the-> situation

For this process to work, Klein notes that, “In order to build an effective mental simulation, we need to have good mental models of how things work. This is another aspect of expertise, and another way that experience translates into action.”

In sum, “The key to using intuition effectively is experience — more specifically, meaningful experience — that allows us to recognize patterns and build mental models.”

He notes several caveats on how relying on intuition doesn’t apply to all situations and decisions, but what I took from his book is that we can actually “practice” and build our intuitive capabilities.

Intuition From a Futurist’s Perspective

During a recent listserv conversation on this topic, my colleagues and I debated the intuition issue. One person pointed out that the approach I took relates to a “decision-in-the-moment.” That is true.

As I thought about it, I realized that “decisions-in-the-moment” could be about the future:

  • During a scenario workshop, I think sometimes we guide the group on a future path based on intuition. Sometimes we’re struggling on where to go, and someone says something, and a light kind of goes on, and you “know” where to take the scenario. (Actually, that seems to happen a lot!)
  • In writing a scenario, when we need to make a decision about a branch point or something like that, I think intuition could factor into that. We’re using our experience thinking about the future to intuitively guide a group or even guide our own thinking. In that sense, there may be more of a link between intuition and foresight.
  • An interesting follow-up discussion on how often that “aha!” moment is (or isn’t) actually on point. Is it the case that many times these aha! moments turn out to be, well, misguided?

While my futurist colleagues and I haven’t reached a consensus on that, it’s undoubtedly an interesting point to ponder — and an interesting research question or project to pursue. Stay tuned for more.


About Andy Hines

Andy Hines is a lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, bringing together the experience he earned as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist.

He co-founded and is currently on the board of the Association of Professional Futurists and has authored or co-authored five books:

  • “Teaching About the Future” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • “ConsumerShift: How Changing Values Are Reshaping the Consumer Landscape” (No Limit Publishing, 2011)
  • “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight” (Social Technologies, 2007),
  • “Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology” (Oak Hill, 1996),
  • “Managing Your Future as an Association” (ASAE, 1994).

Hines has also written dozens of articles and speeches, presented innumerable workshops, and won numerous awards, including the 2003 Emerald Literati Awards’ Outstanding Paper accolade for best article published in Foresight for “An Audit for Organizational Futurists,” and the 2008 award for “Scenarios: The State of the Art.”

Most recently, he has appeared on several radio and television programs, including KRIV-26 News talking about the future of libraries, and the CBS “Early Show” to talk about an MTV-commissioned study: “The Future of Youth Happiness.”

Click here to learn more: www.andyhinesight.com.

Hire Hines to speak about a future-related topic through the Inkandescent Speakers bureau.