Balancing Perceptive and Analytical Thinking in Innovation

Renee Hopkins's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, May 10, 2012

I'm inspired this week by Jonah Lehrer — NOT his most recent book, Imagine. Instead I want  to talk about decision-making and reference Lehrer's previous book, How We Decide, published in 2009). What I'm particularly focused on is the role of emotions and the subconscious in decision-making, and how an understanding of the latest research in this area might help us innovate better.

Wrote Lehrer in a March 2012 Wired article, Are Emotions Prophetic?

We blame our emotions for bad decisions — there are no crimes of rationality. We assume reason is always best. But what if our feelings are smarter than us?

In the last few years researchers have demonstrated that Type 1 thinking might excel at complex decisions or those involving lots of variables. If true, this would suggest that the unconscious is better suited for difficult cognitive tasks than the conscious.

It's all about processing power — the unconscious brains can process vast amounts of information in parallel, thus allowing it to analyze large data sets without getting overwhelmed. In contrast, the conscious brain can only process between 4 and 7 bits of data at a time.

A strong emotion is a reminder that, even when we think we know nothing, our brain knows something.

So if I'm reading Lehrer correctly, a two-step process for accessing Type 1 thinking in decision-making would be to:

  1. Absorb data.
  2. Recruit Type 1 thinking in our decision-making process by consideringthe question of which of the available choices triggers the best feeling in us, individually. For groups, the question might be framed as requesting individual predictions then aggregating those (as some crowdsourcing applications do).

At the bottom of this post, I've included some resource links to other Lehrer writings and explanations of Type 1 thinking.

By the way, Lehrer expounds on this same concept in Imagine, in which he explores the various ways individuals and groups use that same kind of diverge-converge process to create (incubation, then action).  So perhaps we should follow up this chat with a future chat on Imagine.

Meanwhile, here are the questions for *this* chat only — 3 this time!!!

  • Q1. Do you think perceptive thinking, analytical thinking, or both are more useful in decision-making, and why do you think that?
  • Q2. Which parts of the innovation process do you think are best served by analytical thinking, and which are best served by perceptive thinking?
  • Q3. In what other ways besides Lehrer's 2-step process might you be able to access your own perceptive thinking?

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