One of the remarkable attributes of experts in a discipline or domain is how quickly they can assess and respond to a complex moment. In a flash, it seems, they cut through the noise, “see” the key components, and “read” the essential patterns that define the best range of response. Whether it’s a grandmaster chess player, a car mechanic, an ER nurse, a master craftsperson, a political fixer, or other form of maven, “intuition” is a core quality that helps them move quickly and decisively while others are still scanning the terrain.
While there are competing models and theories about how intuition works (Huburt Dreyfus and Herbert Simon among the most cited), most agree that intuition is fast, fluid, developed through practice, and rooted in agile perception. Also worth noting that insight and intuition are defined differently in the literature. Insight is the sudden discovery of a solution after a long, slow slog, intuition is the first flash of assessment/action.
Increasingly, empirical evidence and computer simulations suggest that intuition is built on rapid pattern recognition, perception and connection of “chunks” or “templates” that describe both situation and action, and an “embodied intelligence” that’s deeper than explicit, rational thought (Benner and Tanner, 1987, define intuition as “understanding without a rationale”).
Why does this matter to arts management? Because effective managers work in multiple complex and complicated domains every day — creative production, financial management, marketing, governance, finance, operations, policy, and all of the human systems therein. The most effective managers will have deep intuition that cuts to the chase, quickly observing, assessing, and acting (or directing action) moment by moment, day by day, and year by year. Or, they will assemble a team of intuitive experts and support their best work.
And yet we don’t talk much about intuition in our education, training, support, and decision systems for arts and cultural managers.
Take an example from the financial world. A pilot study to track eye movements among newbies, novices, and experts in accounting (Grigg and Griffin, 2014, see image) found that when answering common financial questions from a balance sheet, newbies looked all over the place, lingering in many places that weren’t relevant to the question. Whereas experienced, accredited accounting professionals focused their eyes quickly and more narrowly — much as a grandmaster chess player will immediately see the essential pieces and patterns on a board, while a novice is looking everywhere and nowhere.
If we agree that mastery in arts management draws upon extensive intuition within and across multiple domains; and if we agree that intuition derives from robust/rapid pattern recognition and action — some learned, some absorbed, some constructed through experience; then shouldn’t the way we train, support, and equip our arts managers embrace this understanding? What would a training infrastructure look like that brought intention to this work?
On the flip side, it’s worth noting that intuition — because it is so often built on embedded or embodied assumptions — is also a hot house for bias and out-dated/broken theories of reality. Any system that embraces intuition must also build checks and balances to be sure it is frequently exposed to the light.
For more on the above see:
- Gobet, Fernand, and Philippe Chassy. “Expertise and Intuition: A Tale of Three Theories.” Minds & Machines 19, no. 2 (May 2009): 151–80. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-008-9131-5.
- Benner, Patricia, and Christine Tanner. “Clinical Judgment: How Expert Nurses Use Intuition.” The American Journal of Nursing 87, no. 1 (1987): 23–31. https://doi.org/10.2307/3470396.
- Grigg, Lyn, and Amy L. Griffin. “A Role for Eye-Tracking Research in Accounting and Financial Reporting?” In Current Trends in Eye Tracking Research, 225–30. Springer, Cham, 2014. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02868-2_17.