Making Fast Decisions

Sometimes we have time for rigorous decision making (another post) and sometimes we only have time for faster, more intuitive decision making.

What is it? How do you do it?

Intuitive decision making is reaching a conclusion emphasizing pattern recognition based on knowledge, judgment, experience, education, intelligence, boldness, perception, and character.

Both rigorous decision making and intuitive decision making compare multiple options.

Context: Use fast decision making when time is short or decision speed is important.

Ancient armies needed fast decisions.

Speed is the essence of war

— Sun Tzu

In more recent times and today, the military uses fast decision making at the tactical level.

A good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.

— General George Patton

Intuitive decision making is faster than analytic decision making because it involves making decisions based on assessing the situation rather than a comparing multiple courses of action in detail.

Intuitive decision making relies on the experienced leader’s ability to:

  • Recognize the key elements and implications of a particular problem or situation

  • Reject the impractical

  • Select an adequate (rather than the optimal) path forward

Intuitive decision making does not work well when the situation includes inexperienced leaders, complex or unfamiliar situations, or competing courses of action. Additionally, substituting assessment for detailed analysis means that some implications may be overlooked.

Some people in business prefer IT to provide all information, seeming always willing to wait for more data. But when time constrains the decision cycle time, even with huge amounts of data, sometimes intuitive decisions are necessary.

Intuition is a highly complex and highly developed form of reasoning that is based on years of experience and learning, and on facts, patterns, concepts, procedures and abstractions stored in one’s head.

— MIT (Matzler Bailom Mooradian) "Intuitive Decision Making"

Use intuitive decision making when time is short and problems straightforward.

Types of Intuition [1]
  • Expert intuition

    • Snap judgment when a pattern is recognized

    • Always fast

      • Familiar situations

    • Ordinary intuition

      • A feeling

    • Strategic intuition

      • A clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.

      • Always slow process.

I like this image of the comparison between analytical and intuitive decision making. It is from the UK Fire Service


Another take on fast decision making is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop.

How to Develop Fast Decision Making

Observe others making decisions.

  • Why did they make this decision?[2]

  • What information did they have when they made it?[2]

  • What information did they not have?[2]

  • Was the decision timely?[2]

  • What subsequent decisions did they make and why?[2]

  • What were the results?[2]

Seek personal experiences making fast decisions.

1. Columbia Business School professor William Duggan
2. Cultivating Intuitive Decisionmaking, Gen Charles C Krulak,