Marta Sinclair, PhD

One day, I received a copy of an article in The Australian newspaper about a woman named Marta Sinclair who was writing her PhD dissertation on “The Role of Intuition in Decision-making.”  I thought: I must contact her immediately.

I was aware of extensive research on this topic in the US, but to my knowledge there was no similar study in Australia.  I agreed to meet her in Brisbane, as she was staying near the University of Queensland campus. On meeting Marta, I discovered she was not a typical academic; she had extensive background in business, including Information Technology and real estate.  

She had decided to study intuition in business at University of Queensland and moved from the United States after applying to one of the professors, who was highly regarded for his work worldwide in emotional intelligence. Her thesis was a marriage of the Business studies and Psychology. Marta explains how her interest in intuition had developed:

Before I joined academic life, I worked in a California-based software company. At that time, people did not have clear rules and regulations about how to go about things. When they were making decisions, often they had no information to rely on. The whole thing was so new, there were no precedents. Yet decisions had to be made so fast.  I started observing that many of the decision-makers had to rely on something like “gut” instinct or intuition.

Some CEOs acknowledged that they were not necessarily basing their decisions on analysis of data. Being at the top of their companies, they could talk freely about making decisions intuitively, without concern that they would be ridiculed or drilled at board meetings. They would then go and gather the data to see whether they could support their initial intuitive response. In their presentations or at meetings, they would use the data only.

I said, “So they did not go to the meeting and say: ‘I feel this is going to work,’ or, ‘my gut feel tells me…’?”

No they may have mentioned it in private, but that’s all. They would have strong initial gut feeling or intuitive response, then they would go through all the analytical steps to determine whether these were in sync with their initial intuition.

In speaking to me about her research at the University of Queensland Business School, Marta provided a great deal of information on the process of decision-making and the degree to which managers will use intuition in different situations.

Gut-feel people are not aware of the way in which they make decisions. They simply know what to do. Analytical people can usually tell you in fair detail what went through their heads.  We actually lack vocabulary to describe the intuitive process.

Marta’s research demonstrated that a person in a good mood is more likely to use intuition; a person having a “bad day” is more likely to analyze every available piece of information, labouring over the data to enable a decision to be made.

Her research concluded that intuition is more likely to be practised in:

  • entrepreneurial and innovative organizations,
  • with a flat management structure,
  • where there are many different alternatives and a lack of adequate information,
  • when time pressure exists,
  • and by all levels of management, particularly senior management who think holistically.

Marta is convinced that a positive attitude to intuition and a high tolerance to ambiguity are important.

Her conclusion? Intuition plus Analysis equals the best solution.

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