The Interplay Between Intuition and Rationality in Strategic Decision Making: A Paradox Perspective



Although scholars have made a strong plea for an integrative approach to strategic decision making, an integrated framework that accounts for the interplay between intuition and rationality is still missing. This study addresses this gap by using a paradox lens and conceptualizes the intuition–rationality duality as a paradoxical tension. We draw on seven case studies of innovation projects to empirically derive a three-step process for managing this intuition–rationality tension through paradoxical thinking. The case studies relate to innovation projects involving an innovating company and design professionals from design consultancies hired to assist in the innovation process. The expectation was that tension may arise from the differences between design consultancies’ primarily intuitive approach to innovation projects and the rational decision making prevalent in companies that hire these consultancies. To examine this tension and its management, we interviewed informants from the involved design consultancies and the companies hiring these consultancies (n=48 in-depth interviews in total). Our empirical data suggest that the intuition–rationality tension was indeed palpable and that management of this tension starts with preparing the ground for paradoxical thinking by creating managerial acceptance for the contradictory elements of rational and intuitive approaches to decision making. The process then continues by developing decision making outcomes through the integration of intuitive and rational practices. Finally, the outcomes of paradoxical thinking are embedded into the organizational context. For each step of the model, we indicate a set of practices that, by leveraging intuitive or rational characteristics of decision making, practitioners could use to deal with this cognitive tension in the different steps of our model.