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Conditions for expert intuition

I read the paper co-authored by Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein about where they agree and disagree on human intuition. Both are notable researchers of the human mind, its biases, and strengths and weaknesses in decision making. You can find my short notes with references below.

Short notes from the paper

Intuition is pattern recognition, taking cues from an environment and recalling a situation or a solution from memory using your system 1 (automatic) thinking.

Intuition can stem from:

  1. Heuristics (guidelines, rules of thumb). Helpful in many cases, but can be blunt and biased.
  2. Professional experience. Much better outcomes than with heuristics when used in repeatable environments.

Kind environments have two properties:

  1. (Somewhat) known rules and regularity of events.
  2. Environments provide opportunities for learning through feedback.

Expert intuition trained in kind environments can be trusted most of the time. Deliberate practice helps to improve in those situations.

Wicked environments often don’t have repeatable patterns and rules are often not clear. It’s too easy to build up wrong intuition because there is no feedback or vague feedback. People—especially unskilled professionals who don’t know what they don’t know—easily slip into overconfidence.

Humans are not very good at knowing the boundaries of their expertise, so we make mistakes when we try to use our intuition on different kinds of problems or if the environment changes without us realizing.

Algorithms work better:

  1. When there are a lot of weak signals which are hard for humans to pick up.
  2. Because algorithms are consistent. The same person can give different judgments for the same case on two occasions.

Klein, Gary. (2009). Conditions for Intuitive Expertise A Failure to Disagree. The American psychologist. 64. 515-26. 10.1037/a0016755.

If you want to dig deeper beyond the paper, start with:

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein

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