Strategic Intuition: Lessons Learned from Iraq

Intuitive intelligence can be a matter of life and death.

In Iraq, we learn that the use of intuition by US soldiers has led to numerous close escapes. This article in the New York Times gives us a glimpse of how soldiers may use their intuitive senses to avoid danger:

“On one route sweep mission, there was a noticeable I.E.D. in the middle of the road, but it was a decoy,” said Lt. Donovan Campbell, who in 2004 led a Marine platoon for seven months of heavy fighting in Ramadi and wrote a vivid book, “Joker One,” about the experience. “The real bomb was encased in concrete, a hundred meters away, in the midst of rubble. One of my Marines spotted it. He said, ‘That block looks too symmetrical, too perfect.’ ”

These life-and-death decisions must be made instantly, with little, if
any, time for rational analysis.  And what’s more impressive, the Army
has discovered that this ability to think intuitively can be improved through training.

Time after time, the Army learns from its feet on the ground, that “the speed
with which the brain reads and interprets sensations like the feelings
in one’s own body and emotions in the body language of others is
central to avoiding imminent threats.”

Of course, intuitive intelligence is not a new idea for the Army. In COUP D’OEIL: STRATEGIC INTUITION IN ARMY PLANNING, a 2005 document produced by Strategic Studies Institute at US Army War College, we see a serious attempt to blend both analytic and intuition.

The Army views the analytic approach as follows:

Analytic decision-making approaches a problem systematically. Leaders analyze a problem, generate several possible solutions, analyze and compare them to a set of criteria, and select the best solution. The analytic approach aims to produce the optimal solution to a problem from among those solutions identified. This approach is methodical, and it serves well for decision-making in complex or unfamiliar situations by allowing the breakdown of tasks into recognizable elements. It ensures that the commander and staff consider, analyze, and evaluate all relevant factors.

It may help inexperienced leaders by giving them a methodology for their lack of experience. The analytic approach to decision-making serves well when time is available to analyze all facets affecting the problem and its solution. However, analytic decision-making consumes time and does not work well in all situations–especially during execution, where circumstances often require immediate decisions.

Intuition, on the other hand, is viewed as a “creative” approach:

Intuitive decision-making is the act of reaching a conclusion that emphasizes pattern recognition based on knowledge, judgment, experience, education, intelligence, boldness, perception, and character. This approach focuses on assessment of the situation versus comparison of multiple options. It is used when time is short, or speed of decision is important. Intuitive decision-making is faster than analytic decision-making in that it involves making decisions based on assessment of the situation rather than a comparison of multiple COAs (Courses of Action). It relies on the experienced leader’s ability to recognize the key elements and implications of a particular problem or situation, reject the impractical, and select an adequate (rather than optimal) COA.

Intuitive decision-making is especially appropriate in time-constrained conditions. It significantly speeds up decision-making. Intuitive decision-making, however, does not work well when the situation includes inexperienced leaders, complex or unfamiliar situations, or competing COAs. Additionally, substituting assessment for detailed analysis means that some implications may be overlooked. Commanders use intuitive decision-making when time is short and problems straightforward. It is usually appropriate during execution.

The Army, especially in light of Iraq, has revised their thinking. The author of the report, a Columbia Professor William Duggan shows how to reconcile analytical and intuitive methods of
decision-making by drawing on recent scientific research that brings the
two together. He applies this new research to the Army’s core methods
of analytical decision-making as found in Field Manual (FM) 5-0, Army Planning and Orders Production. The result is “strategic intuition,” which bears remarkable resemblance to von Clausewitz‘s idea of coup d’oeil in his classic work, On War.

The Columbia professor states emphatically:

This divide between analysis and intuition reflects an outmoded view of the human mind that science no longer supports. Recent advances in how the mind works have overturned the old idea that analysis and intuition are two separate functions that take place in two different parts of the brain. In the new view, analysis and intuition are so intertwined that it is impossible to sort them out. There is no good analysis without intuition, and no good intuition without analysis. They go together in all situations. Some scientists call the new model of the brain “intelligent memory,” where analysis puts elements into your brain and intuition pulls them out and combines them into action.

It is important to note that this ireport does not criticize the Army or its commanders. When strategic intuition was used as a lens to analyze Army officers in action, they tend to comment, “That’s what we do.”  The report states: Good commanders use intuitive intelligence. They treat manuals only as guides, and adapt procedures as they see fit.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you need Intuitive Intelligence – it is the bridge between analysis and intuition, and it explains how we, in fact, really make decisions. Despite the limited visibility in these uncertain and turbulent times, we know that Intuitive Intelligence is the necessary strategic aptitude for decision-makers both in the Army and in the chaotic world of today’s business.

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