Author:Asvoll, Havard


The terms reflection and intuition are conspicuously prominent and dominant in management research. In a variety of ways these concepts occur in numerous contexts including management research on decision-making processes (March & Simon, 1966), sense-making (Weick, 1979), information processing (Simon, 1979), learning cycle (Kolb, 1984), reflective practitioner (Schon, 1983), mindfulness (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001), experiential learning (Korthagen, 2005), expert intuition management (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986). More specifically, 'reflection' and 'intuition' are ambiguous terms and there is an unclear relationship between them when applied to tacit knowledge and innovation management literature. As 'intuition' is inherently non-verbalizable in expert management decisions (Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986) and tacit knowing (Baumard, 1999; Boisot, 1995; Davenport & Prusak, 1998) and 'reflection' is almost impossible (i.e., Kroksmark & Johansen, 2003) or very difficult to achieve in instant practice (van Manen, 2008; Schon, 1983), there seems to be little space left for other perspectives which can link intuition and reflection in a more dialogical and intertwined way.

One of the dominant ways of dealing with ambiguous phenomena in management knowledge/knowing is undertaken by separation and differentiation. For example, the personal, context-bound and dynamic definition of knowledge is often allocated to categories labeled 'implicit', 'tacit and 'intuitive' whereas the impersonal, context-free and static side is allocated to a categories labeled 'explicit', 'analytical' and 'reflective' (Tsoukas, 2003; Stacey, 2001; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). It may be argued that this differentiation is supportive as long as the theoretical and empirical results are not presented in an additive manner. A way to address such a dualistic and dichotomized view is to consider the contradictory meanings simultaneously. This is what Bakhtin (1986) calls loopholes. Loopholes may help to embrace the way reality is perceived in "the form of still latent, unmuttered future work" (Bakhtin, 1984: 90). As a condition and attitude, this unsolvable solution is attractive, and can justify the motivation behind this paper. This motivation challenges the tacit/intuitive-explicit/reflective knowledge dichotomies which tend to leave out all the shades of gray in between.

It is possible that this kind of dichotomized logic, like a colonizing impulse, exercises an excessive influence on our view of what 'good management' ought to be. This dichotomized logic is supported by the fact that our society places considerable emphasis on rationality and efficiency. This means that analytical assessments and (detached) reflection often receive more attention than personal commitment and embodied intuitive skills (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986; MacIntyre, 1985; Toulmin, 2001). There is reason to believe that this colonizing impulse derives some of its legitimacy from a dichotomized view of reflection and intuition.

If this suggestion is correct, there are grounds to find an alternative framework which can stem from the shades of gray and loopholes.

A conceptual framework of 'reflective-intuitive-knowing' (R-I-K) as a knowledgemaking process is presented from these shades of gray. This links the distinct reflective and intuitive forms of knowledge. The framework proposes a (radical) challenge with regard to a new (R-I-K) conceptualization of 'here and now' management practice partly based on the two forms of knowledge which traditionally have been dichotomized. In short, either when an (unexpected) problem occurs in the managerial 'here and now' situation or that a situation demands an answer. This means that (expert) managers deploy reflective intuition (R-I) by their intuitive grasp/awareness and simultaneous reflection during the course of the situation which guides further action, or they reframe the problem and modify on-going practice in such a way that managerial knowing enables good decisions to be made. R-I reflects the on-the-spot way of 'thinking' more profoundly or in ways that open the world and guide managers in it.

Illustrative examples of this R-I-K framework are reviewed and its reliability is tentatively established. Examples of 'reflective-intuitive-knowing' show how the reflective and intuitive processes are interwoven 'here and now'. It is also proposed that the transmutation of 'reflection' and 'intuition' into R-I-K involves the three specific, interwoven and dialogical modes (abductive, deductive and inductive) of management practice. Such a transmutation and synthesis could begin amongst managers themselves, and the examples in this paper refer to the practice of being an innovation manager. Moreover, viewing the manager as a person with tacit knowing/knowledge and innovation practice allows R-I-K to be considered viable for the practice of management.

In this paper I draw on the perspectives of tacit knowing and innovation management to develop a framework of R-I managerial knowing. In addition to tying together elements of the theory in these areas, this analysis casts new light on and has implications for a variety of issues in management literature, i.e., the importance of open-ended 'here and now' situations; the definition of the (tacit or explicit) knowledge concept; and the managerial innovation process. I believe such a perspective will contribute to a better theoretical understanding of the complex knowing involved in (innovation) management and an alternative sharper focus is given on how reflection and intuition can sometimes operate simultaneously and intertwined. This is one step in enhancing our theoretical sensitivity towards how the interwoven aspects of R-I can improve managerial practice and knowing. A greater understanding of the actionable and diverse aspects of R-I knowledge opens up the potential for improved research on the use of knowledge in management. Seeing R-I knowing as an intertwined and complex phenomenon has the potential to more fully reveal its manageability. It can also be helpful to managers as a tool to manage and run their everyday work and projects more efficiently.

First, this paper presents the rationale and features behind the 'theory of reflectiveintuitive knowing'. Second, a literature review is presented in order to shed light on and give a framework to the phenomenon of R-I-K. Thereafter illustrations of how R-I-K modes such as abductive, deductive and inductive inferences works are given. Finally, theoretical and practical implications for researching R-I-K management are described.


Since the literature on management research is extensive, I will choose research and theoretical perspectives which could frame the need for a more profound understanding and more studies on reflective-intuitive-knowing in managerial practice. Literature within different areas such as tacit knowledge and innovation management is considered.

Innovation Management

The literature suggests that established firms in the long run need to balance their exploration and exploitation activities in order to achieve superior performance (i.e., March, 1991; Bledow, Frese, Anderson, Erez and Farr, 2009a & 2009b). How this general insight might unfold in practice is not so evident. However, the exploration-exploitation framework distinguishes two broad patterns of organizational and managerial behaviors. March (1991: 71) broadly defined as:

"Exploration includes things captured by terms such as search, variation, risk taking, experimentation, play, flexibility, discovery, innovation. Exploitation includes such things as refinement, choice, production, efficiency, selection, implementation, execution".

Later Levinthal and March (1993: 105) added that exploration involves

"A pursuit of new knowledge, "

Whereas exploitation involves

"The use and development of things already known ".

Similarly, Tushman and O'Reilly (1997: 167) argued that

"Organizations can sustain their competitive advantage by operating in multiple modes simultaneously--managing for short-term efficiency by emphasizing stability and control, as well as for long-term innovation by taking risks and learning by doing ".

March (1991) thought that both exploration and exploitation are essential for long-run adaptation, but the two are fundamentally incompatible. March (1991) provided several arguments in favor of this incompatibility. First, exploration and exploitation compete for scarce organizational resources. Thus, by definition, the more resources devoted to exploration the fewer resources left over for exploitation, and vice versa. Second, both types of actions are iteratively self-reinforcing.

However, some researchers (Uotila, Maula, Keil and Zahra, 2009) used a novel methodology to measure the relative exploration versus exploitation orientation and found an inverted U-shaped relationship between the relative share of explorative orientation and financial performance. That is to say, the relationship between competence exploration and radical innovation is positive, and that the relationship between competence exploration and incremental innovation is inversely U-shaped. Moreover there is a positive relationship between competence exploitation and incremental innovation and an inverse U-shaped relationship between competence exploitation and radical innovation.

The scarcer the resources needed to pursue both exploration and exploitation, the greater the likelihood that the two will be mutually exclusive, that is, high values of one will necessarily imply low values of the other. Logically, within a single domain (i.e., an individual or a subsystem), exploration and exploitation will generally be mutually exclusive.

March's (1991) logic in itself seems difficult to dispute. However, it is possible to question some of the key assumptions. Conflicting demands between exploration and exploration can be addressed by...

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