The Intuitive Compass – why the best decisions balance reason and instinct : Francis Cholle, Jossey-Bass, 2012
Understanding the thinking and concepts of this book comes from a reading of the preface, which provides the reader with a summary of the author’s experience and influences. Cholle has certainly had a varied past and having this appreciation really helps to engage with his writing. His underlying thinking is well summarised in a quote from later in the book (p159): “Logic is powerful but rarely deep, because it is dualistic in nature …. we necessarily need to go past logic.”
The central theme is intuitive intelligence, a skill which enables us to accept that rational clarity is not always appropriate and that ambiguity in decision-making is desirable. Cholle has chosen the compass as an instrument with which to illustrate and analyse the dynamics between rationality and ambiguity: the compass has ‘reason’ and ‘instincts’ as poles, and ‘play’ and ‘results’ as opposites. Much of the book explains what this means and how it can be used to create a more broad-minded approach to decision-making; particularly during periods of uncertainty and disruption. The compass is used throughout to demonstrate different thinking approaches and methods for tackling varying types of problems.
The author makes much of the need for play at work. He describes how he often commences workshops with groups of executives with some form of play, in order to create greater sensitivity to each other and to their own inner vibes and rhythms. As an example, Cholle recounts how surgeons who play video games make ‘one third fewer errors in the operating room’ than those that don’t. The video-game experience sharpens mental dexterity, hand-eye coordination, depth perception and pattern recognition. It also improves attention spans and information processing skills.
Cholle goes on to make some important distinctions about commonly-used words. Instinct is – he says – about having an innate inclination toward a particular behaviour (as opposed to a learned response). A gut feeling, or hunch, is a sensation that appears quickly in consciousness, without being fully aware of the underlying reasons for its occurrence. Intuition is a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without analytical reasoning (it bridges the gap between the conscious and the unconscious parts of our mind and also between instinct and reason).
Cholle makes the point that an increasing proportion of the workforce is what is now termed as knowledge workers. Their assessment, recruitment and development is often focussed on the linear-thinking, process-savvy, problem-defining aspects of work, with insufficient focus on the development of non-linear thinking and creativity.
The author makes much of the four quadrants of the Intuitive Compass: where reason and results converge – in the northeast quadrant – one sees the most obvious element of rationality, through processes and structures. In the southeast quadrant, one sees competitiveness target-setting and focussed agility. The northwest quadrant is characterised by brings together a combination of rationality and the creative elements of play: this results in strategic thinking, structured creativity and creative problem-solving.
The southwest quadrant offers pure, instinctive creativity which is an outcome of the unconscious experiences of life. Without this, life, decisions and our focus would be too focussed on keeping things in control.
The author coins a phrase “intuitive intelligence”: this is comprised of holistic thinking, paradoxical thinking, noticing the unusual and leading by influence. Thinking holistically means drawing your decision-making from all four quadrants of the intuitive compass, ensuring that all perspectives are considered in an open-minded way. Thinking paradoxically means that we should be prepared to consider ideas that challenge common sense. Noticing the unusual means giving logical and sensory attention to things that may not necessarily immediately link to the issues at hand, or that doesn’t have obvious relevance. Leading by influence is about relinquishing control and allowing the natural creative process of evolution and emergence. As Cholle says (p118): “the more you want people to be receptive, autonomous, agile, proactive and creative in their approach, the more you should try and influence them rather than trying to control them.”
The book is replete with well-explained business examples, and there is no doubting his passion for the topic. Reading this entertaining and thought-provoking book was a valuable use of time for me, even if it did seem to state the obvious at times. The style of the book is engaging and the concepts are simple to embrace.
Whether it has practical value for time-poor HR professionals is debatable.
Reviewer’s rating: 3 out of 5