Posted by: Liz Massey | November 29, 2007

Quick and dirty beats paralysis by analysis

I was overjoyed the other day to find this Newsweek article that highlights research by psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer, of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, indicating that intuitive decision-making may be our best bet for making complicated choices.
Gigerenzer’s thesis is that our brains have evolved in such a way that using “cognitive heuristics” (a fancy name for a mental shortcut) to speed decisions produces a more accurate, generally better result than a laborious analysis of all possible options and all relevant pieces of information.
He’s tested his thesis on dozens of real-world problems, in fields as diverse as economics and biology and health care, pitting decision-making models using a single crucial variable against computers using complicated mathematical analyses to divine the issues. In every case, using the “one good reason” heuristic has proven superior to data-greedy mathematical equations in making the best choices.
What I love about this finding is that it reinforces my experiences when doing creative work–namely, that going with my gut guides me to learning experiences and innovative expressions that are superior to projects chosen because the pros outweigh the cons, or because an “expert” advises me to do so.
The new research also reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, which reports on the phenomenon of “thin-slicing” problems through intuition and taking action based on those cognitive snapshots.



  1. In management I’ve been working this way for years and nearly everyone who has worked with or for me has thought that I was crazy. When my decisions proved to be accurate and I was able to turn crisis into success they could hardly believe it.

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