Intuition at Work, by Gary Klein, Summary

Intuition at Work, by Gary Klein, Summary
The book is a great source of material for coaching and employee development of
someone like Erin Bell. Here is a short summary of key points from the book.
Learning from experience will be increasingly important as shipyards struggle to cope
with rapidly changing environments.
“Future strategic tactical, operational, and support environments will place greater
demands on personnel performance. We will require all naval personnel (active, reserve,
civilian, contractor) to master a wider range of competencies and exercise keener
situational awareness and judgment than ever before. We will expect our people, and the
human resource systems used to manage them, to respond with greater speed, flexibility,
and accuracy.” – Aligning Human Resources to Naval Power 21, MRA Issue Paper 03-02
“The tremendous reservoir of intellectual capital residing in our people will be developed
in an environment of lifelong learning and individual opportunity. Comprehensive
planning and management of investments in training, education, and career/professional
job opportunities will allow us to cultivate and focus the power of our people.” - Navy
Human Capital Strategy
NAVSEA technical organizations have much in common with high-hazard organizations
such as nuclear power plants and chemical plants. High-hazard organizations are
distinctive work settings that include potential harm or death to large numbers of
individuals in a single event, such as an explosion or crash. The special importance of
learning in high-hazard organizations was recognized early in both the research and
policy literatures (e.g., the investigation of Three Mile Island, Kemeny et al., 1979). As
Weick (author of Managing the Unexpected, another book you should be buying) stated,
“organizations in which reliability is a more pressing issue than efficiency often have
unique problems in learning and understanding.” Such organizations develop distinct
learning strategies arising from the need to understand complex interdependencies among
systems, and avoid both potential catastrophes associated with trial-and-error learning
and complacency that can arise from learning only by successes.
One of my tasks as Supervisor of Shipbuilding and as the Navy’s senior Nuclear
Qualified Engineering Duty Officer is to produce capable, experienced project teams, but
many of the members we assign to such teams are not experienced. Other organizations
involved in naval engineering are similarly charged to produce expertise in very short
periods of time to anticipate and defend against problems while responding resiliently to
surprises. Klein, author of Intuition at Work, has made a career of understanding how
expertise develops and transfers to others; investigating consumer purchase behaviors;
and by developing programs to build decision making and coaching skills. Klein
Associates developed these tools based on over 25 years of experience studying
firefighters, military commanders, emergency responders, and others who routinely make
tough decisions under friction. The U.S. Marine Corps and the nuclear plants of Duke
Energy use these techniques on a regular basis to enhance their team decision making and
coordination. Klein started his research in decision-making by studying how firefighters
performed in the high-stakes environment and chaos, confusion, and uncertainty of a fire
scene. Klein discovered that the more experience people have in any particular field, the
more they rely on intuition, and ultimately Klein learned that intuition is a natural and
direct outgrowth of experience. Klein defines intuition as the way we translate our
experience into action. Easy to define, but a difficult skill to build in practice. Just
having the experience and capability does not make one a good coach and mentor for
developing it in others, at least not without more education.
The book explains in clear, easy to implement detail, how you can increase your intuitive
decision-making skills and those of others by putting yourself through a program of
mental conditioning (many examples are provided and cognitive strategies for use in
teaching are clearly explained such as: Decision Games, Decision Requirements tables,
Pre-Mortems) to expand a person’s pattern repertoire. There are two modern views of
intuition. The view of intuition as something magical, like ESP or a psychic ability that
taps into unconscious forces. Building expertise is unnecessary. The other is the
muscular view that intuitions are skills that can be acquired and expanded through
exercise. The book is based on the latter premise.
Intuition is the way we translate our experiences into judgments and decisions. It is the
ability to make decisions by using patterns to recognize what is going on in a situation
and to recognize the typical action script with which to react (or to do nothing). Once an
experienced decision maker sees a pattern, any decision they have to make is usually
obvious – we have a sense of what will work and what will not.
We have many barriers to Intuitive Decision Making in Naval maintenance.
Organizational Policies: counting paper credentials more than experience and
depending on remote teams because it is difficult for remote teams to trade remote
lessons learned and to have teammates coach each other.
Rapid turnover ensures that staff members will never get much experience at any
one task. Organizations promote rapid turnover when they rely on "up or out" policies
for promotions , or even when they promote people too quickly. Adopting a lean staffing
strategy makes an organization vulnerable when someone from a team leaves for another
position and the organization shuffles people around to fill the gap, leaving low
experience in several places.
As the pace of change accelerates, historical ways of doing things are pronounced
obsolete, and the experience of seasoned employees is discounted. Tried and true
approaches are treated as legacy problems that have to be replaced.
Taking refuge in procedures that do not capture all the nuances and tricks of the
trade. While procedures make it easier for new employees to come up to speed and
supports accountability when the procedures are easily verified in use, but if the
procedures eliminate the judgment calls that the experienced people once used to build
expertise. You cannot reduce intuition to a procedure. Once a set of procedures is in
place, supervisors may not bother mentoring the workers or teaching the skills needed to
understand or modify the procedures.
Metrics can be useful as a corrective to relying too heavily on impressions, but if
managers try to make decisions based on numbers alone they run the risk of eroding their
Information technology and automation can be useful, but it they reduce operators
to the role of clerks who focus more on attending to the needs of the machines than to
what the machines are telling them, this is an obstacle to building intuition.
Why do we tolerate all of these barriers? Because most people do not understand what
intuition is and how it develops and that makes them unaware of the barriers and their
cumulative effects.
The key to using intuition effectively is experience – more specifically, meaningful
experience – that allows us to recognize patterns and build mental models. The problem
with acquiring real world experience is that many of us do not get enough opportunities
to accumulate enough real-life experience in a particular field to develop expertise or you
have to wait 20 years until someone gets the experience the old fashioned way. Another
problem is that many of us cannot afford to wait until our people are doing something for
real to learn from their mistakes. The intuition skills training program found in the book
is based on a regimen of deliberately practicing the decisions you have to make in your
job in order to build up the meaningful experiences that are necessary to build up
intuition. Deliberate practice means practicing with specific objectives in mind. The
intuition skills training is designed to help readers and mentors:
Size up situations more quickly and with less effort
Recognize problems and anomalies more quickly.
Feel confident that the first option you think of will usually be a good one.
Have a good sense of what is going to happen next.
Avoid getting overloaded with data.
Be calm in the face of time pressure and uncertainty.
Find alternative solutions when a plan runs into difficulty.
These are clearly the capabilities we want to foster and develop in our project and civilian
workforce leadership. Not only have we seen weaknesses in the shipyard’s ability to
produce capable project management teams, there are similar challenges throughout the
yard in other departments. The skills we will need to transform the shipyard are
significantly different than what many of our most capable workers possess and we need
to think outside the box for how to get where we need our people to go. I think we
should also consider hiring Klein Associates to help us with the design of a course to
improve our ability to build teams “who routinely make tough decisions under friction.”
Not getting good feedback from NAVSEA on your performance. One thing you should
consider is improving how you self-assess (see second attachment). I am sure many
people in NAVSEA have not spent much time thinking through what they want you to do
and are thus ill-equipped to comment on how well you do it. If you make some progress
on providing them meaningful self-assessments, you may have more success in
stimulating those kinds of conversations. I have much more that I can share on this topic
that I collected from Pearl, but I will not send unless you are ready/interested.