Intuitive mind and business shipwrecks

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A number of my readers had responded to my March piece (Anticipation – A Special Skill of the Astute Strategist) by asking HOW. How can one develop the capacity and skill to foresee possible consequences of how the game is played? How does the astute strategist anticipate future games?

A good way to explore that question is to begin by asking why we are often unable to anticipate the future. The reason is our intuitive mind.

The intuitive mind

We use our intuition constantly. We assess a given situation, strategies available to us and to others, and from a quick impression of possible outcomes. Our intuitive mind has evolved to offer good enough solutions quickly. It works by rapidly constructing coherent stories from what we can immediately and easily observe. Its role is not to provide exhaustive solutions for that would defeat the primary purpose: speed.

The analytical mind 

It is the analytical mind that plays the role of the controller. Unfortunately, it is usually a lazy one and tends to endorse solutions offered by intuition.

Most of the times it works well. But every now and then we make errors of judgement, or are unable to foresee the future. That is when systematic errors – also called cognitive bias – occur.

McDonalds & United Airlines fiascos

The play between the intuitive and analytical minds explains why the McDonald’s Restaurant Manager evicted the homeless man without taking cognisance of what might happen in future. It would make clear why the United Airlines Gate Manager failed to foresee the firestorm that was unleashed by the forcible eviction a paying seated passenger. Seeing it in this light we can understand why Oskar Munoz, the CEO, was insensitive in his first response when he endorsed the action of the employee.

In each of these cases, the coherent stories of their intuition were based on company policies, and the need to follow established rules and practices. It seems more than likely that their analytical minds simply endorsed the intuitive solutions.

Stopping to ask oneself 

They could have acted differently if they had stopped to ask what consequences other than the intended ones might befall. This simple act of stopping to ask oneself engages the analytical mind. It creates an opportunity to see the game differently and improves the chance of discovering viable alternatives. In common parlance we call it a second thought.

Second thoughts are valuable because they can open the mind to reassessment of the situation and new possibilities. It does not follow that we always will find better alternatives. Cognitive bias is hard to overcome. The second thought may lead to reaffirmation of the first solution. But it has the potential to change things for the better. This is the power of contemplation, reflection.

We do not see cognitive bias in ourselves but are quick to observe it in others. Therein lies the second strategy: seek another opinion, especially contrarian advice. Surely, the Gate Manager of UA could have called a colleague, or his boss before precipitating the eviction? The Restaurant Manager could have too.

Willingness to see other viewpoints 

It may be argued that neither had the luxury of time. Really? The UA flight was already delayed. Would another few minutes have mattered compared to the fallout that followed? Could the Restaurant Manager have taken just a few more minutes over the decision? Could he have consulted one or two of his colleagues in the outlet? It is clear he could have. He would have received their unvarnished views only if he had built a reputation of listening to other points of view.

Building a coffee country 

VG Siddhartha inherited 350 acres of coffee plantations in Karnataka, India. He foresaw that scale was important for achieving low cost to ride out the yo-yo of international commodity prices. By 1993 he had increased the acreage to 3000. In 1995 he was India’s largest green bean exporter.

Wisely, he realised major coffee chain operators would enter India. He embarked on rapid and sustained expansion. Cafe Coffee Day has targeted new customers by opening Squares, Lounges to address different price-quality segments. They operate over 35,000 vending machines in offices and 900 kiosks.

Siddhartha’s strategy is a good example of distant vision, the ability to anticipate games beyond. Does it necessarily evidence reflection, consultation, and an open mind? No, But it would seem extremely unlikely that he figured it out all by himself instantly, would it not?

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