Abstract: Managing Intuition: Cognitive Science Meets Corporate America, 1975-1990

Kira Lussier


This paper examines the widespread discussion of “intuition” in management literature in the late 1970s and 1980s. My goal is to sketch out the story of management theorists who drew on psychological and cognitive sciences in order to legitimize and rationalize intuition—Weston Agor and Herbert Simon. To do so, I examine a particular configuration of scientific theories and techniques—cognitive science, personality psychology, brain scans, computers, psychological tests—that made up discussions of intuitive management. As I argue, Agor and Simon’s cognitive approaches to intuition suggested that intuition was more than a vague, irrational “gut feeling,” but a rational form of information processing and decision-making in a world of data saturation. This turn to intuition in the 1970s-1990s, I suggest, was bound up in the emerging discipline of cognitive sciences and new information technologies. Computers raised theoretical and practical questions about the capacities of the human brain in relation to machines, how computers were to be integrated into corporations, and how managers were to make decisions given a flood of data. This paper tells the history of an intuition for the information age, one that was bound up in new technologies and concerns about the kinds of people suited to manage amidst these machines.