Monday, January 29, 2007

Gut feel stress

Stressed business person staring at computerJust after finishing writing "More Fog of War, brains, and guts", I had the chance to read through an article titled "6 Lessons for Handling Stress" in the last issue of Time Magazine. Confirmation bias notwithstanding, I liked this excerpt in the first lesson:

More recent studies, says Christina Maslach, a pioneer in burnout research at the University of California, Berkeley, show that unfairness and a mismatch in values between employees and their companies play an increasing role in triggering stress. "Probably one of the strongest predictors is when there's a vacuum of information--silence about why decisions were made the way they were,"...

In that sense, it seems important that the reasons behind a decision be explained to the affected audience. It also follows that the explanation should be made in terms that people can relate to. As an example, "we needed to cut expenses by 10% or we would have to cut 2% of the work force" vs. "we are operating in a difficult environment".

That kind of finding leaves the subordinates of "gut feelers" in a difficult situation. Unless the "gut feeler" possesses a super-natural ability to explain the reasoning made by his intestines, one can only hope the decision to match the collective intuition of the entire team.

I am reaching the conclusion that even for the creative types, when a decision is based on intuition, there is still value in putting together data that supports the decision. If anything, late gathering of the data allows an unconstrained flow of intuition without placing an undue uncertainty burden on colleagues and subordinates. And as the research shows, the less uncertainty in the work environment, the less stress.

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