Feeling ‘instinctively right’

How much of a guide is ‘gut feeling’ when it comes to strategy? Is it a useful indicator of what sorts of action will work; or should it be put aside for more overtly rational ways to decide what to do? The dismal proportion of women directors on FTSE-100 Boards is a case in hand. Research by Cranfield University shows that in 2009 just 12% of FTSE-100 directors were women…

… and of these, only 10% came from ethnic minority groups. But what can be done remains an open question.

Quotas may strengthen talent
As Lord Davies of the Department of Business and his predecessors all agree, this indicates a serious under-use of the skills and talents of women in the workforce, to the detriment of society and the economy as a whole..

There now seems therefore to be move towards the enforcement of quotas – with perhaps up to 40% of big company board directors being female – although it can hardly be said that the consensus is complete, whether in Europe, Australia or the USA .

Heart or head?
Board quotas are not however a new idea – they already operate in some countries such as Norway – but it is obviously a change of heart for Lord Davies, who is reported as saying previously that quotas did not ‘instinctively feel quite right’.

It is clearly to Lord Davies’ credit that, despite continued controversy, he is willing to agree a review his position in the light of advice and evidence; and it’s also interesting that he was comfortable with the notion of what ‘feels right’.

So, how do we in general move from ‘feelings’ such as this, to more evidence-based commentary and positions?

* What part in decision-making and choice should we give to ‘feelings’ and intuitions about ‘what’s right’?

* Does this apply differently to different issues – e.g. the separation of moral and ethical from more functional or rational issues. (Can these really be separated?)

* Can we ever really know for ourselves where the line between personal intuition and more hard-headed considerations is drawn?


Posted on November 12, 2010, in Questions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. In the seminal publication by Carl Jung, Psychological Types (1921) we also find two sets of “functions,” thinking and feeling (one axis, say vertical), and sensation and intuition (another, say horizontal). Combined with the division of people into extrovert and introvert, this gives eitght Jungian categories of people. All these functions are present in all of us, with the unconscious opposite of each dominant function (varies depending upon each individual pysche) acts unconsciously. Of course, Isabel Myers and her mum Katheryn Briggs went onto popularise and market this theory for eventual mass-saturisation of the commercial market. Jung gave a sort of blessing to the Myers Briggs work, writing in correspondence with these “marketers” as we might now call them (without rancour).

    In terms of intuition, this is specified by Jung as an irrational ”perceiving” function, alongside sensing, whereas thinking and feeling as considered by him rational or “judging” functions.

    Jung’s argument is that all of these functions are natural dichotomies, balancing out in individuals and by extension balancing out in populations.

    What this framework, for me, does so well is show how for work teams (e.g. Boards of Directors) you need a good balance of psychological types. In answer to your query, Hilary, this would include people strong on intuition and those people who are (consciously) wary of it in corporate decision making, albeit who subconsciously do a bit anyway. An interesting empirical finding is that people tend to go out and hire people akin to themselves in terms of this schema, leading to very unbalanced work teams – the opposite of what is needed for effectiveness.

    An extreme example of this is the “Apollo teams” experiment where the “very best” individuals (who turned out to be dominant alpha male types, surprise surprise…. perhaps something to do with the way that “very best” is commonly wrongly defined) were grouped together into a (misnomer) team and pitted against balanced teams of more ordinary folk. Of course, the latter (actual) teams wiped the floor against their Apollo opponents on a consistent basis since they actually spent their time on the task in hand, not on one-upmanship. Sad but true. I am not aware whether they were pro-intuition types; I don’t think that was the issue.

    Lastly, Alexis (and good to hear from a colleague at http://www.elfridacamden.org.uk where I was once a Director) – there is no “right answer”, and your own one above is at least as good as mine!

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