PM Chronicles #15: Gut Feelings versus Numbers, by Fred Parker

On a video conference. Present are:

  • PM – Performance Manager
  • LT – Learning and Talent Development Coordinator
  • TC – Training Coordinator
  • HG – Consultant (Hired Gun)

PM         Welcome everyone.

               As you all know, our recent study of the Development Triangles is just the beginning of designing our Leadership Development Program.

               HG is finishing up a proposal for a series of workshops. Tell us a little about what you are proposing.

Leadership Development Workshops

HG         Well, in our offline discussions you and I have identified about ten key areas for leadership development.

LT           Can you tell us what they are?

HG         Sure, most of them. They include various ways supervisors deal with leadership situations, such as the Development Triangles.

               Other workshops will include Interpersonal Communication, Coaching and Feedback, Ethical Leadership, Effective Meetings, Informal Conflict Resolution, those sorts of subjects.

               The whole program may take two years to complete. Along the way, LT will become the lead facilitator assisted by TC, so you will have the internal ability to sustain this effort in the future.

PM         One of the workshops we plan to include is on basic problem solving and decision making. Related to that, a recent forum on one of the social media networks poses the question, “When you make a big decision, do you trust the numbers or your gut?”

               HG and I have discussed this briefly, and I have asked HG to lead today’s discussion.

HG         Let’s start by clarifying our terms? What do we mean by numbers or your gut?

Mostly Gut Feelings

TC          Numbers, to me, implies data: the use of schedules, graphs, charts, and the analysis of those numbers.

LT           Yeah, and your gut implies feelings, emotions, the old “flying by the seat of your pants” kind of thing.

HG         OK. What about habits? We tend to be creatures of habit.

               Do we spend a lot of time analyzing, thinking about what we do all day long?

TC          No, we just do stuff. We sort of operate on autopilot.

HG         Is that good or bad?

TC          I think it is normal.

PM         I got to thinking about what would happen if I had to relearn everything I do every day, or stop to think about every small decision. I try to imagine what it would be like to have to relearn everyday how to get dressed, or how to drive. Life would be really crazy.

HG         So let’s use one of those examples. How is it that you know how to drive your car.

PM         When I was a teenager, I took Drivers Ed and my parents helped me learn to the point where driving became mostly automatic.

HG         So how do you know what to do when something unexpected happens?

PM         Well, the more experience I get, the easier it is to react to things.

HG         This is a little tricky but stick with me.

Mix of Training and Experience

               We have a mix of training and experience leading to our ability to react to new events. Where does all this fit in the numbers versus gut discussion?

LT           I think the training and experience are part of the numbers side, the side we think and analyze with.

               That puts the reaction piece into the gut side.

HG         How does all this work out for us, generally.

LT           I think it works pretty well. We don’t need to analyze everything, we just get on with it.

TC          Wait a minute! Don’t our own feelings play into this as well? Some of the things I do are because I want to, I feel like it, or it feels good.

HG         Does that ever cause problems?

TC          Oh yeah! Sometimes I spend money foolishly, or eat too much ice cream, or whatever.

HG         So maybe sometimes we need more analysis?

All          Yes!

HG         Do things ever go wrong with too much analysis?

PM         Oh yes. I tend to be too analytical sometimes. I can fall into the old “paralysis of analysis” trap and not do anything. I have to remind myself that I need to go with what I have and move on.

HG         So, in our personal lives either too much analysis, “numbers,” or too much gut reaction can cause problems.

What About Big Decisions?

               Now let’s turn back to the original question relating to big decisions. How do these things play out in big business, military, or government areas.

PM         I have been reading some about the Ford Motor Company. Henry Ford was a brilliant inventor and businessman up to a point, but his gut caused him to make some major mistakes.

               For instance, after the Model T became so popular, Ford locked the door to the Design Room for 19 years because he thought he was finished.

               Similarly, Ford totally refused to even consider the V-8 engine. The first one his engineers built, he destroyed with a baseball bat. Some things changed only after he retired, but in the meantime, Ford lost a lot of market share.

LT           At least Ford only lost market share. I read a lot of military history. I have read about modern Generals, WWII and since, who repeatedly refused to believe their intelligence people because, “I don’t agree. I know the enemy mind.” They convinced themselves that their gut was more accurate. This attitude lead to the deaths of thousands of soldiers.

PM         Why weren’t they fired?

LT           Some of them finally were, but for the dead it was too late.

TC          I have studied some about the Vietnam war. It seems that it was the other way around. The people at the top drove everything with numbers; charts, graphs, statistics, things like “body counts.” They managed to stack up 58,000 corpses in that one.

HG         And yet we read about generals like Patton who was known for his amazing ability to size up a situation correctly and respond?

Balance Point

PM         I think I see where this is going. What I have read about Patton is that he read and studied warfare constantly. He studied and imagined things to the point where he became convinced that he had actually fought in all those battles.

LT           Are you saying that he had already studied so many scenarios that when something happened, he was already prepared?

HG         Yes. How does that fit in to our discussion about learning to drive?

TC          The more training, experience, study, and practice we have, the better we will react because there are fewer unusual situations. It is sort of, “Been there, done that.”

HG         Yes. We are about out of time, so let me wrap up.

               As we have discussed, there is a balance point. Decisions overly driven by gut, feelings, emotions, often cause trouble of the “I want more ice cream,” or, “I just have a feeling” variety. We can call these irrational decisions.

               On the rational side, decisions driven mostly by numbers, analysis, thinking often cause problems of the “I don’t have enough information. I need more data, I can’t decide” variety.

               In relation to money, My friend @Ted McLyman has published about this in his @Discover Your Money Temperament materials. He talks a lot about the feeling brain and the thinking brain and how to get them to work together more effectively.

               We will always tend to be emotional, and we may never have all the information we would like, but the balance of the two will generally be OK, until the next situation pops up and we do it again.

PM         Whew! That is a lot to think about. We will continue discussions related to our Leadership Development Program next time.

               Thank you all for your time and attention.

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Thank you.

Fred Parker is the Director of Course Design and Development at https://www.PathfinderCoaches.com. Fred has half a century as a Performance Management Consultant designing, developing, and delivering performance-based training including all manner of technical training, individual development soft skills, and basic leadership. Clients include all sizes from a local sandwich shop to the military to fortune 500 multinationals. Now Fred is converting previous ILT courses to remote delivery courses available on our web site.

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