Psychologist Gary Klein on Expertise, Intuition, & Decision Making

Excerpts (via Gary Klein @

System one is really about intuition, people using the expertise and the experience they’ve gained. System two is a way of monitoring things, and we need both of those, and we need to blend them, and so it bothers me to see controversies about which is the right one, or are people fundamentally irrational, and therefore they can’t be trusted? Obviously system one is marvelous. Danny Kahneman has put it this way, “system one is marvelous, intuition is marvelous but flawed.” And system two isn’t the replacement for our intuition and for our experience, it’s a way of making sure we don’t get ourselves in trouble.

If we eliminate system one, system two isn’t going to get the job done because you can’t live by system two.

That became part of our model — the question of how people with experience build up a repertoire of patterns so that they can immediately identify, classify, and categorize situations, and have a rapid impulse about what to do. Not just what to do, but they’re framing the situation, and their frame is telling them what are the important cues. That’s why they’re always looking, or usually looking, in the right place. They know what to ignore, and what they have to watch carefully.

It’s telling them what to expect, and so that’s why performance of experts is smoother than the performance of novices, because they’re not just doing the current job, they know what to expect next, so they’re getting ready for that. It’s telling them what are the relevant goals so that they can choose accordingly.

What I’ve described about their strategy is about how they use their intuition, because they’re not making formal decisions, they’re not making analytical decisions by comparing options. These are intuitive decisions, and by intuition here, I’m talking about the way they are able to use their experience. This isn’t just “top of my head, this feels good” type of decisions. These are intuitions that are based on 10, 15, 20 years or more of experience that has allowed them to build a repertoire of patterns that allows them to quickly frame situations, size situations up, and know what to do. But they’re not just using intuition, they’re balancing the intuition with the mental simulating part, which is how they’re doing the analysis. So their decision-making, we call it recognition primed decisions. The decisions are primed by their ability to recognize situations, and balanced by the monitoring of the mental simulation.


Very important excerpt (via Gary Klein @

I think helping people to arrive at insights isn’t a question of pushing the insights on the people, or trying to explain it in words as much as helping people to gain the experience so they can see the inconsistency for themselves, then all of a sudden the mental model will shift naturally and easily, and to me that’s a gift that good teachers have, to be able to help the people who they’re trying to support. They’re trying to enlighten their students or colleagues to gain those insights.

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05. July 2011 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Psychology & Sociology | Leave a comment

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