Why choose strategic thinking?

How do you approach difficult decisions like switching careers, or dealing with competition, versus everyday decisions like the route you take to work, or the time you go to bed?

In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman, tells us that most of the time the answer is the same: Many of our decisions are automatic and influenced by numerous “cognitive biases”, which often leads to costly mistakes in key areas of our lives.

Inside our minds there is a constant battle going on between logic and intuition — or “gut feel”. A good way to visualize this is to imagine Logic and Intuition are different people that live inside our heads. Logic is extremely smart, but he likes to sleep in; it’s always Sunday morning, and he doesn’t want to be disturbed unless you’re willing to risk a headache.

Intuition, is friendly, easy going, and fast — for Intuition life is simple, his motto is: why walk if you can run, just go with the flow.

For most of our decisions, Intuition is our friend, he keeps us sane and makes us productive, but for complicated, important or new stuff, we want to work with Logic and many of us would assume that’s exactly what we do, but it’s not always that simple.

As creatures of habit we often assume everything is simple until proven complicated. If we encounter something that is complicated we will switch to Logic, but there’s a caveat — Logic’s ability to help us depends on the sort of starting point Logic is given. Strong starting points work well, but if Logic hasn’t seen this sort of problem before a couple of things are likely to happen:

  • Logic will use the closest starting point it knows, to solve the problem — which may lead to the wrong decision
  • Logic will give up, and pass the problem back to Intuition, who may convince you this decision isn’t worth the trouble

You can try this out, just ask yourself a challenging question. (I’ve added a few below just in case):

  1. Should I stick with my current career and why?
  2. What’s my growth strategy and why?
  3. Should Apple buy Netflix?
  4. Why did Hillary lose?
  5. What’s my purpose in life?

Tough questions — but I believe that happiness and success have everything to do with our ability to be focused and present when we face these challenges, that there are a set of mental models that can help us tackle big decisions, in a different and effective way. Identifying and applying these approaches are what I’ve come to define as Strategic Thinking, and they will be the focus of demuddled.com (this blog)

Every week I’ll focus on an area that will help our Logic with stronger starting points. This may involve talking about a fully baked strategy complete with examples or looking at an individual pattern or tool that makes it easier to break problems down. Eventually I believe these approaches become second nature, as we naturally weave them into our experience and our intuition, allowing us to develop stronger responses to challenging questions, with surprising efficiency.

What are some of the things you do to force yourself to deliberately think things through rather than relying on intuition?

Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

Raj

17 comments

  1. Hi Raj, Great Post and very thought provoking. I like your analogy of thinking of the two as separate people; it makes me realize I’ve relied mostly on intuition in the past. I usually try to find a moment of calm and connect with my true feelings on the matter, which is probably less driven by logic than it is by ‘gut instinct’. I will try to focus on having a more in depth conversation with logic next time I’m looking for answers within myself and I’ll keep you posted 😉

    1. Thanks Skye and great comment. It’s got me thinking about how important it is to be present with difficult situations and actually use our instincts that way!

  2. Hi Raj, Frist of all, awesome topic. Secondly, I totally agree with your comparison of Logic vs Intuition. To force a logical approach to certain problems I tend to play out several scenarios. I gather my thinking would be, if every scenario has the same end result than ‘Logic’ dictates I have made the right decision :). I guess there is no guarantee ‘Intuition’ does not influence these thoughts as well…. Just when I thought I had things figured out, I read your article and I am not so sure anymore 🙂 looking forward to reading more.

    1. This reminded me of an excellent article I read a few months back called: The Psychology of Human Misjudgement by Charlie Munger. Says something very similar to your approach, i.e. before you make a final decision run it through several situations and make sure it tracks. Thanks! 🙂

  3. Good article Raj. You’ve whet my thirst.

    I find if I write down my thoughts and emotions as they occur, and revisit them later, I can often find contradictions in my intuition that are usually attributable to some temporal, external influence.

  4. The duality you’re describing is interesting (and I have read reviews of Kahneman’s book). I suppose the best type of thinking — which means living a “good life and virtuous life,” as the Greeks put it — is to somehow merge the fast and slow, with the more intuitive thinking taking some precedence in (most) personal relations and the slower in (most) civic decisions. The trouble with slow thinking is that it assumes most people are informed or desire to be informed before making important decisions. The results from the recent U.S. election highlights one of the weaknesses of democracy, especially in our age of information overload. Most people can’t be bothered to be informed, and demagogues understand and exploit this. The quick, gut-level decision, unencumbered by reflection is the wellspring for most vile behaviour. This kind of decision-making is not just normalized but increasingly celebrated as more authentic. Stupidity becomes a virtue.

    1. It’s funny that in my career I’m currently facing a lot of inertia towards change, but, based on the election result, it seems people embrace change when it doesn’t seem to cost anything in the immediate future. One president for another was almost treated like a change in laundry detergent brand. And as you say, that decision was made instinctively based on gut feel.

  5. Hi Rai, Nice article! It made me think for a couple of days. By following your logic as presented in your writing, strategic thinking seems to be logical thinking with a strong starting point. So the key to strategic thinking depends on the strength of the starting point. One thing I seem to notice about the debate on intuition vs. logic is that we tend to think they are opposites (you describe them as two different people living in our heads). However, IMHO, they are intertwined. From my observation, many people come up with ideas/choices/decisions intuitively, then use logic to justify or weigh the decisions. So is the starting point of “logic” intuition? If yes, are there strong intuition and weak intuition? Intuition comes from experience as well as logic. Babies learn quickly that touching a hot stove will burning their fingers, so their intuition (from experience) is to not touch hot stove. Law says that one shall not steal, so our intuition (from logic that one should follow the law) is that stealing is against the law and therefore bad. So can you truly separate logic from intuition or intuition from logic? When answering multiple choice questions, if you are not sure about the answer, apparently intuition (your first guess) gives you better chance of getting it right. Thinking of the good choices or decisions I’ve made in the past, I have to say that I followed my gut feelings at the time of the decision making, however they seemed logical after the fact. Interesting topic. Looking forward to next week’s writing!

    1. “intertwined” – good way of looking at, seems to ring true.

      I think, where success with intuition is concerned, it does boil down to quality of past experience.

  6. Interesting topic to discuss Raj. Well done for the choice you made. I think intuition an logic go along, but their roles do change with people growing up and getting more mature. Will be interested if we can break down what drives people to make decisions, because it is what dictates logic or intuition to prevail ….and this is really subjective…

  7. Hi Raj,
    I liked the article and look forward to future dives into this topic. One of the things I do to force myself to thing deliberately is to schedule weekly and monthly ‘check-in’s’ to make sure I am on the right path.

    1. Thanks Tim! What does a check in look like? Calendar entry to remind you to pause? Do you mind sharing the sort of Q/A you do during a check in?

      1. Hey Raj,
        These are basically my questions with some potential real examples:

        What Is my top level goal? Has anything changed?
        -Increase my income

        What are the high level things I need to be doing to move my life forward
        towards this goal?
        – Get a raise
        – Get a new job
        – Sell More art
        – Expand my leather goods business
        I then make a list of all the sub-tasks under each of these items and use them for weekly and daily to-do based on what will have the greatest impact.

  8. Just had the discussion with a colleague the other day about logic vs ‘gut’. I think I said something to the effect that intuition is likely historical patterns + logic at a more unconscious level. Must have been something in the coffee.

    Ran into this a day or so later, must be the theme of the month.

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