The difference between experience and intuition

Satyajit Rout
2 min readNov 17, 2022

I cannot explain to you the difference between experience and intuition any better than the late cricketer Shane Warne did.

He once said of Monty Panesar, a fellow professional, that Monty didn’t play 30 tests. Instead he had played the same test 30 times.

The observation was as astute as it was uncharitable perhaps. But what did Warne mean?

Just notching up experiences counts for a lot less if we’re approaching every problem as if for the first time. Our backlist of experiences has to count for something. It has to help us make fewer mistakes.

The best way to not repeat mistakes is to learn from each repetition. From each turn of the wheel.

💡Pick each experience apart by questioning assumptions (reflection), build/update a model of reality with deliberate effort (abstraction), and then put that lesson into practice (action) that leads to the next experience to learn from.

When we reflect and store the remnant of an experience in our brains, we’re filing away a pattern (new model of reality). Later, we’re subconsciously matching that pattern with what we see. With the best, the pattern-matching is associative (similar). Not direct (same).

Intuition is nothing but, as Farnam Street calls it, ‘subconscious pattern matching, honed over weeks, years, and decades’.

❓How to turn experience into intuition?

👉Run experiments all the time, not only when you have to.

Shopify does something called the Tobi test, named after a practice started by their CEO Tobi Lutke who would ‘just log in and shut down various servers’ to see if the system had resiliency.

Years later, it was perhaps this habit that gave Shopify confidence to do what they did when they were 600-odd and out of a lease and with a new office a month or so away. They didn’t look for a new lease. They switched to working from home. This was way before COVID.

The smart ones never waste a failure. The best ones never waste a success either. They learn no matter what.

👉Be ready to lose battles if doing so improves your chances of winning the war.

As a young and ambitious professional, you want to impress peers and superiors. So you bury your weaknesses and bare your strengths. With time, you get better at what you’re good at in a narrow way. You become a one-trick pony.

👉Design your life such that you’re forced to reflect upon your decisions.

This is classic habit-building. Make rules that encourage deliberate thought: maintain a decision journal; do after action reviews; run pre-mortems. These habits may seem hard to start with, but they’re smart to stick with.

What tiny habit do you have to learn better from experience? Share your method.

--

--

Satyajit Rout

I write about decision-making, mental models, and better thinking and things in between