Posted by: Katherine Raleigh
Programme Manager on Wed 27 Sep

Welcome to the latest in a series of brief interviews with guest experts from KnowledgeBrief’s Innovation Programme, providing a window into the experts’ latest ideas and new advice for executives.

Following the Innovation Day in September, Jeanne Meinholt, Senior Researcher at KnowledgeBrief (KB), interviewed Dr Viktor Dörfler (VD), University of Strathclyde, to discuss how it can be “dangerous to start believing that better data analysis is sufficient for better decisions” and how not to underestimate the importance of intuition.

KB: What’s the key business challenge that organisations need to address, that your research tackles?

VD: With the IS/ICT development we can handle more and more data, and we can do this faster and faster. Furthermore, data is produced at an ever-increasing rate. It is dangerous to start believing that better data analysis is sufficient for better decisions. The essence of this problem is that we can only analyse what the databases contain, and the world if far richer, far more colourful, and far more human than this. We must not forget that for good decision making we also need those things that humans can perceive, but are not contained in databases. Don’t make the mistake of believing it is only a matter of time until everything is in databases; data will always only be just data, and never meaning.

KB: What advice would you give to executives, based on your findings?

VD: Be SmArt. What it means is: don’t underestimate the importance of intuition, and at the same time don’t throw out all the data analysis in favour of doing everything intuitively. SmArt includes both data analysis and intuition, always in a fruitful mix, achieving even more when they mutually inform each other. For instance, the intuition of an expert may help develop new analysis, which may fuel new intuition, and so forth in cycles. In order to achieve this, executives will need to create culture that enables SmArt context. They need to create a culture in which analytical and intuitive thinkers coexist, mutually respect each other, and where it is OK to transition from one to the other or to be both. It is important to understand that using intuition does not have to be untidy, unsystematic or lacking explanation. There are appropriate IS/ICT tools, primarily causal maps and expert systems, which make the process orderly.

KB: How does your latest research approach this? What do the results indicate?

VD: I have conducted in-depth interviews with 17 Nobel Laureates, and my former PhD student Marc Stierand conducted similar interviews with 18 of the best chefs in the world. Both of these studies indicated that intuition plays a crucial role in this high-level creativity. I would even risk the following assertion: no significant creative outcome can be achieved without intuition. The other area where intuition plays a significant role is the decisions of top executives. Therefore, we need to help decision takers and experts, particularly those who engage in creative problem solving, reliably develop their intuition in addition to using analysis. For this, it is of immense importance to support master-apprentice relationships, and develop highly performing hubs that I call ‘hot spots’.

KB: What did you learn or take away from meeting with the executives in the KnowledgeBrief Innovation Programmes?

VD: It was enlightening to work with experienced executives in this workshop. Immediately, they intuitively grasped the importance of intuition. However, their analytical minds seemed to quickly kick in and question their intuitive minds. This is natural: all of our education was focused on developing our analytical mind, neglecting or even suppressing the intuitive mind. This was particularly apparent in the discussions following the presentation. I received insightful questions and comments, and was able to elaborate further on many aspects of intuition. I believe that the discussion was useful for the audience in developing a more nuanced view of intuition. The structure of the various activities in the workshop also worked well in terms of helping participants switch between the intuitive and analytical perspectives. As the participants started thinking about implementing in their organisations what they learned, their viewpoint expanded, leading to a deeper understanding of the interplay between analysis and intuition.

With thanks to Dr Viktor Dörfler, Senior Lecturer in Information & Knowledge Management, University of Strathclyde.

Next month, clients will be exploring the personal data economy with Professor Roger Maull, University of Surrey. Find out more here.

Part of a series of brief interviews with expert guests from our Innovation Programmes, we cover insights from the latest research and key advice for executives to stay ahead in management and innovation.

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