Don’t ask the weatherman

Bob Dylan – Music Legend

You don’t have to be a weather man to know which way the wind’s blowing. So said Bob Dylan, iconic musician. Gary Klein, world authority on intuitive behavior and developer of the Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD) model, seems to agree. In the same way as you can predict the weather by looking out a window and noticing what the patterns are, so too experienced leaders and teams can make great decisions and work effectively using their instinctive know-how.

So what is the RPD model? It has two principle parts. The first is Intuition. We use experience to recognize key patterns that indicate the dynamics of any given situation. Recognising a pattern, our intuition tells us what course to take – what makes sense. This is not an analytic process. It’s a pattern matching process. We have seen it before – it’s familiar. Our recognition is made up of understanding:

  • What goals make sense in this situation so we can set priorities.
  • Which cues are important so we can avoid information overload.
  • What to expect next so we can prepare ourselves and notices surprises.
  • Typical ways of responding to the situation.

This works the same way as when we look out the window to see what the weather’s doing. It looks like rain – I’ll take an umbrella. It looks like it’s clearing – I won’t need my coat. Decision made in a moment.

The second part comes when we imagine we’re taking the course of action we first hit upon. Klein calls this Mental Simulation. We evaluate this course of action by imagining we are carrying it out. We spot any weaknesses and find ways to avoid them – we make quick improvements.  It looks like rain – I’ll take an umbrella – Might get windy (this is Wellington after all) – Will the umbrella be enough? Better take a coat too.

Imagine you could understand the priorities of a situation, what information was important and what wasn’t, what might trip you up and what action to take, all in the blink of an eye. Well you can. You do. Klein found that experienced leaders and teams that trust their intuition and mental simulation, can take less than a minute to consider complex options and come to a good course of action. Less than a minute. Think about it.

Moreover, Klein found that most decisions (80%) were made this way – even in non-routine, difficult and complex situations.

Gary Klein – Author
Sources of Power

But work’s not like the weather, right? Wrong.  Can you see when the storm clouds are gathering in your office? Can you look at how the operation is running and know you’ve got a problem on your hands without needing a report? Ever had your sixth sense tell you, you need to take particular steps and you just go ahead and do it? That’s Recognition-Primed Decision-making at work. Trust it.

Trust the “conglomeration of [your] incredible past – whatever experience gotten in any way whatsoever” (Dylan), take your nose out of the report, stick your head out a window, check the weather and make a decision. Don’t wait for a report to tell you what you already know.


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