Use your head when going with your gut; When to go with your gut instinct; How to make on-the-spot decisions

January 5, 2014 2:08 pm

Use your head when going with your gut

By Rhymer Rigby

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell asserted that snap decisions could be better than decisions made slowly and with considered analysis. Since its publication in 2005, a number of people have come forward to argue that this is not the case or that only some (usually trivial) categories of decision are suited to being made without much thought. Detractors include Michael LeGault, author of the book Think.

Nonetheless, people are often asked to make workplace decisions on the spot. So, how do you decide quickly, especially if you do not have to hand all the information that you would like?

Start by not panicking. “Even considered decisions where people have gone through long thinking processes often have a strong element of gut feel and emotion to them,” says David Wethey, author of Decide: Better Ways of Making Better Decisions. He notes that nurses, soldiers and referees make decisions every day that are both split-second and important.

Next, says David Lagnado, a lecturer in cognitive and decision sciences at University College London, recognise that you may actually have more information than you think: “For instance, most of us are pretty good at reading other people because we do it all the time.”

However, he cautions that while it is fashionable to go with your gut, it can lead you astray. To combat this, he counsels a kind of meta-knowledge: “Know where your gut feel is coming from.”

Indeed, you should look out for “bad” sources of information, generally: do you like the product because it is good or because the packaging is pretty? In a similar vein, it can help to try to contextualise your decision. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about the “inside view” and the “outside view”. One is where you think “inside” your immediate circumstances and look for evidence in your own experience. The other is where you try to place what you are doing in the context of similar cases and take a more statistical view. This can help to predict decision outcomes and counter “attribution errors” that people often make, where they ascribe failure and success to the wrong factors.

Finally, ask whether the choice you are presented with is the real choice. Have you selected the options for yourself or has someone else (with their own interests and agenda) selected them for you? Indeed, you may even have the option not to decide. “People often feel bad about not making decisions and others can use this to pressure you,” says Mr Lagnado.

But if you must make important decisions where you feel under-informed and under pressure, Mr Wethey suggests you try to whittle it down to a binary choice and then ask yourself which is the least disadvantageous. If you do not know even that, go with gut instinct. “If you get it wrong, it’s understandable,” he says. “Besides, sometimes large groups of very well-prepared people make the wrong decision.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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