It’s generally been recognized that anyone who is highly effective has a keenly developed sense of intuition that they rely upon to make “judgment calls,” without a great deal of analysis. In spite of this, there has been a trend over the course of many years to devalue human judgment in favor of a deliberate decision-making process that favors quantification and algorithms over common sense.
It can also be observed that, in spite of the most meticulous processes, bad decisions are still made – and quite often, they are made because of sophisticated decision-making apparatuses that are worshipped with a near-religious faith and obeyed even when “common sense” would indicate that the decision is bad. The faithful cast aside their doubts and do something they “feel” to be wrong because they believe that the decision-making mechanisms are smarter and better than their own intuition and human logic.
As such, there seems to be a movement toward returning to intuition for faster and better decisions – but there is little value to switching to the opposite extreme. The decision-making solutions were put in place precisely because human begins are subject to ignorance and arrogance, which in tandem lead almost invariably to tragedy when a person with very little knowledge feels he is an expert at anything and that his ideas are as good as anyone else’s.
The problem may be that the notion of “intuition” is poorly understood – thought to be a supernatural force that alights on anyone out of the blue – and those who do not understand intuition feel themselves capable of it, that “anyone can have a brilliant idea” even if they have little knowledge of a subject. Or worse, the feeling that people without knowledge are better at coming up with new ideas because they are not burdened by the assumptions that experienced people tend to make to eliminate ideas that disagree with theory.
Properly understood, intuition is not at all mystical or random: it comes from the recognition of a connection or a pattern in the information about a given subject. Sometimes, this may come from recognizing that existing theory has overlooked something, or has wrongly declared something to be false or impossible. But more often, it is simply something that has not need given adequate consideration.
However, to make connections and recognize patterns, there must be knowledge of those things among which connections and patterns can be found. A person who knows nothing of pharmacology is unlikely to discover a miracle cure by feeding random plants to patients. It may have been possible to do so in the eighteenth century for a dilettante to make a significant contribution because so little was known and any knowledge would be new. Today, the field has been studied exhaustively, and anything an amateur “discovers” by his own tinkering is likely already well documented in textbooks on the subject.
As such, the greatest potential for intuition is for knowledgeable person, experienced and studied in the field, to seek out new connections – but at the same time to be willing to question the assumptions inherent in the knowledge he already possesses, particularly when they are barriers to success. Real barriers do exist, and cannot be simply imagined or wished away – but an amateur approaching an established field does not have the ability to recognize the difference.