My wife and I are walking into a house showing. It takes me less than a minute to decide that it is the right house for us. We spend the rest of the week lining up our loans, making massive financial decisions, and reading scrolls of legal mambo jambo.
Turns out that the house was $50K overpriced and a terrible fit for us. By sheer luck we got cold feet at the very last moment.
Most product managers (and other human forms) make decisions this way. We allow our intuition to form an early judgement that heavily sways our entire decision making process.
Great product managers operate differently. They suppress their intuition, but not entirely. They purposely delay it up until the very end of the decision making process, and only then use it to inform a better decision.
Daniel Kahneman popularized the idea of delayed intuition. It is a gift to product managers.
Delay Your Intuition
Your intuition will never say “I don’t know” or “let’s think about it”. Whether it has lots or little information to work with, your intuition will quickly and decisively form an opinion.
With little information at hand, our intuition will form an opinion that may feel grounded but in truth based on frail, irrelevant, and sometimes deceiving information.
With lots of information at hand, our intuition will miraculously sort through it and form a valuable opinion worth listening to.
Once our intuition decides something for us, it is immensely hard to resist. This is why delaying our intuition is crucial. The more we delay it, the more information it has to work with, the more accurate it becomes.
There is no overnight trick to delaying our intuition, but there is one mindset that can help. I call it the decision journey.
Decision journey is the simple idea of approaching every decision as a journey.
Your only goal in this journey is to get intimate with the terrain.
As you embark on your journey you're in the fog. You know and see very little.
Every step you take teaches you something new about the terrain.
You are not alone on this journey. Others who are seeing the terrain from different perspectives, and perhaps been there for years, can share their maps with you.
There are many ways to explore the terrain, each valuable in it’s own way. Walking around or looking at a map are each valuable in their own way.
The terrain is there to be uncovered. You don’t need to guess what it is, just go ahead and take a look.
As days pass, you form a feeling for the terrain beyond factual knowledge. At some point you don’t have to think about it consciously anymore.
The terrain will often surprise you. That’s what makes the journey fun.
You can study the terrain forever, but at some point you need to make a decision. The more intimate you are with the terrain the better the decision.
Your decision is not the end of the journey. There is no end to it. You will keep exploring and the terrain will forever be changing. Your decision will evolve and adapt along the way.
Premature intuition is undesired because it eliminates this wonderful journey before it begins. It creates a fake feeling that you understand the terrain and know exactly what you’re doing.
You are not.
When you approach your decision as a journey of discovery you allow yourself to explore first. This keeps your intuition dormant until it’s time to make a decision, at which point intuition is an invaluable tool.
Some Tricks Nonetheless
There are a few tricks that have helped me delay my own intuition and embrace the decision journey.
Decision hook - Create a hook to remind yourself that you’re on a decision journey. A powerful one is a decision journal that includes your past and current decisions
Reflection - Reflect often on how you’ve made an important decision. I only fully understood that house buying story once I reflected on it
Process - Have an explicit process for your important decisions. The process should explicitly prevent you from deciding right away and force ample time for information gathering
Thinking space - Create dedicated thinking time. Bad decisions are made when our minds are too busy. As a professional decision maker you must have dedicated time every day to just walk and think. The ROI is immense and immediate
No shortcuts - Remember that good decision making begins with deep problem analysis, information gathering, and idea generation. Separately and in that order
Intuition is a double edged sword. It draws fast and decisive conclusions regardless of how much information it has.
Faced with an important decision, intuition will want to give you an answer right away.
Do not let it. Embark a decision journey instead. Take the time to explore, learn from others, and get intimate with the terrain. Savor the journey until it’s time to decide.
Now that you understand the terrain, let your intuition roam free. On the basis of knowledge and understanding, your intuition will miraculously sort through everything and give you pretty damn good advice.
This is how the best product managers delay their intuition. And what makes them the best.
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