The Science of Intuition from a Future Rock, Paper, Scissors Champion (Business Acumen)


I am thrilled to announce that I am one step closer to fulfilling my dream as a professional athlete. Baseball? I’m too slow. Football? I’m too old (and weak). No, I am in training to join the USA Rock, Paper, Scissors League.

Before you begin arguing over whether Rock, Paper, Scissors is a sport, you should know that I define a sport as anything airing on ESPN and, as you can see here, the USA Rock, Paper, Scissors League Championship was on ESPN 2 live from Las Vegas. Dubbed “the greatest duel in sports” by one of the announcers, David “The Brain” Borne was taken down by Jamie “Landshark” Langridge in a not-quite-imposing boxing ring.

As my training commenced in professional RPS (that’s what we pros call it), I first scrutinized the rules: Rock beats scissors, paper covers rock, scissors cut paper. Pretty straightforward. I then studied the masters for strategies on how to overcome an opponent. I think it was legendary RPS player Rob Twitchel who inspired me most when he said,

 I have no strategy at all. I drink beer and throw whatever comes to my mind.

Rob’s Zen ways were a subtle indication that skill alone would not lead to greatness. I needed to rely upon my intuition.

According to Massimo Pigliucci, philosophy professor at City University of New York and author of Answers for Aristotle, intuition is a set of non-conscious cognitive and affective processes. It provides a quick assessment of a situation and determines how we will initially react. In his research, Pigliucci stated that intuition is a domain-specific ability; you can be highly intuitive in one area and completely lack it in another. Therefore, my performance in a RPS tournament might be wholly different then in a street match.

The main thing I’ve learned is intuition.—Steve Jobs

Like me and my fellow professional athletes, leaders must also have a fully developed sense of intuition. It helps us read non-verbal communication, weigh the immediacy of risks, and keep us focused on the big picture. Without it, you will feel the need to analyze endless amounts of data before making any decisions. And good news, intuition can get better with practice.

Pigliucci found that repetition increases familiarity, helps us identify recurring patterns, and enhances critical thinking and problem solving abilities. All you need to do it get through these three phases:

  1. Focus on understanding what it is the task requires and completing it without mistakes.
  2. Work on proficiency. If successful, you’ll be able to complete the task quasi-automatically.
  3. Conduct “deliberate practice” so as to intensely focus on areas where mistakes are still being made.

Whether you are competing in the workplace or the Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship ring, intuition is an essential skill. Don’t discount it as simply a “gut feeling.” Put time and energy into improving the quality and increasing the speed of your cognitive abilities. It may be the competitive advantage you need. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my RPS skills with my six year old son. He may look innocent, but the kid throws a fierce scissor.

David Kahn, PhD is an Organizational Psychologist focused on delivering business solutions that link culture and engagement with the business goals of the organization. Check out his latest book, "Case, Spandex, Briefcase: Leadership Lessons from Superheroes" and read more of his work on