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The Power of Intuition - Book summary

Real-life decisions are often challenging and complex, time is limited and we don’t have complete information for a fool-proof analysis. This book by Gary Klein demystifies the concept of intuition and provides a pragmatic approach to intuitive decision-making, i.e. how to translate our experience into judgement, decisions and actions. In this free version of The Power of Intuition summary, we’ll outline the key ideas in the book.

The Power of Intuition: An Introduction

Many of us have been trained to make important decisions only after careful analysis of the pros and cons of all our different options. However, a purely-analytical approach doesn’t work in reality. Real-life decisions are more challenging and complex, time is limited and we don’t have complete and conclusive information for a foolproof analysis.

People like firefighters don’t have the luxury of time to compare and analyse all their options in times of emergencies – they depend on their intuition to literally make life-and-death decisions. Likewise, it’s impossible to analyse every single step and every decision in a typical day. All of us rely on intuition in our daily lives.

Building Your Intuition

Intuition is not about magic or ethereal connection with the unconscious forces, but an extension of our experience.

The Recognition-Primed Decision Model (RPD) explains how this works. Essentially, our brains link perceived cues to patterns and “action scripts” – this pattern-matching process allows us to call up the stored actions when we detect similar patterns. We also test our action scripts or decisions through mental simulation to assess if a specific course of action would work, as summarized in the diagram below. [Get more details on this process from our full 15-page summary]The Power of Intuition summary_Recognition-primed decision model RPDThe RPD Model helps us to make decisions without having to reconsider all our options every time. It is also the source of our “hunches”.

In the book, Klein explains why neither intuitions or analyses alone are adequate for sound decisions (get a quick overview in our full book summary). Thus, we shouldn’t blindly follow our intuitions, nor should we suppress them. Klein’s solution is to:

  • Strengthen our intuition, so we can see things we previously wouldn’t have noticed, and use our intuition reliably and effectively to improve the quality of our decisions;
  • Use intuition for direction (recognizing situations and deciding how to react), and use analysis to verify your intuition; and
  • Use a blend of intuition and analysis that suits the situation.


Since intuition is an extension of our experience, it can be trained. However, most of us won’t get enough opportunities to accumulate enough real-life experience, nor can we afford to wait till something happens to learn from our mistakes.

The solution is to steepen our learning curve using intuitive skills training. By practicing important decisions, we accumulate meaningful experience and condition our minds. This in turn improves our mental models, and our ability to recognize patterns and select optimal action scripts.The Power of Intuition summary_Intuitive Skills Training_3 componentsIn our complete book summary, we elaborate on the 3 key elements of intuitive skills training, including how to:

  • Identify and understand the decision requirements of your job.
  • Practice these decisions in context; and
  • Review Your Decision-Making Experiences.

Applying Intuition at the Workplace

There are several areas where intuition can be applied at the workplace. Here’s a quick overview – do get more details from the full book summary. The Power of Intuition summary_using intuition at the workplace

  • Setting the agenda/ managing your time based on the types of decisions involved.
  • Detecting problems before they get out of hand, by knowing the obstacles to your problem-detection ability and using tools like pre-mortem exercises and reframing.
  • Managing Uncertainty, by becoming aware of the types/ nature of uncertainty and the tactics you can use.
  • Sizing up Situations. Make sense of the situation and overcome “background noise”
  • Directed Creativity, i.e. identifying a goal while figuring how to achieve it, as opposed to random inspiration or group brainstorming.
  • Improvising and Adapting your Plans

In the book, Klein specifically zooms in (in great detail) on several key tools, including:

  • The decision requirements table
  • The use of Decision-making exercises (DMXs); and
  • The decision-making critique (to review incidents).

Safeguarding our Intuition

There are several trends that corrode our opportunities to build intuition, and this segment in the book addresses that. Here’s a quick overview (more details in the full 15-page summary).

The Power of Intuition summary_safeguarding your intuition

  • Communicating your Intuitive Decision. One challenge of intuitive decision-making is to articulate clearly your “executive intent”, and the book explains how you communicate this clearly.
  • Coaching others to develop strong intuitions. Master these 3 components to be an effective coach: Assessing and diagnosing, tailoring instructions, and setting the climate (more details in our .
  • Learn to combine metrics and intuition for problem solving
  • Our dependency on Smart Technology can create gaps in our mental models and make us stupid, and the book reminds us how to stay alert to, and minimize such interference to our intuition.

Getting the Most from The Power of Intuition

In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 24-minute audio summary.

One of the biggest values of this book lies in the wide range of case studies and DMXs provided, including nursing, banking, vendor evaluation, architecture, production etc. These help us see the process of intuition at work, so we can start building our mental models through others’ experience.

In particular, Klein walks us through in great detail the process and tips involved in using 3 of his key tools, including:

  • The decision requirements table
  • The use of DMXs; and
  • The decision-making critique (to review incidents).

For more details, you can purchase the book here.

About the Author of The Power of Intuition

The Power of Intuition: How To Use Your Gut Feelings To Make Better Decisions At Work is written by Gary Klein–a research psychologist known for pioneering in the field of naturalistic decision making. He started his career in academia as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Oakland University, before working for the government as a research psychologist for the U.S. Air Force. In 1978, he founded his own R&D company, Klein  Associates, to study what is now known as the Naturalistic. Decision Making framework. Klein Associates grew to 37 people by the time he sold it to Applied Research Associates (ARA) in 2005. In 1985, Dr. Klein developed a Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD) model in 1985 to describe how people actually make decisions in natural settings, which was incorporated in Army doctrine for command and control. He is a Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. In 2008 he received the Jack A. Kraft Innovator Award from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. Since 2009, Klein has been a Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC.

The Power of Intuition Quotes

“The actual decision is less important than the thinking that went into it.”

“Put intuition in the driver’s seat so that it directs our analysis of our circumstances.”

“The key to using intuition effectively is…meaningful experience – that allows us to recognize patterns and build mental models.”

“It is better to make a good decision fast and prepare to execute it well than agonizing over a ‘perfect’ choice that comes too late.”

“Often, the key to a creative solution is noticing a leverage point that others have overlooked.”

Click here to download The Power of Intuition book summary and infographic

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