Intuition is based, in part, on your tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is the collection of all your life’s experiences stored and cataloged in your brain – available for subconscious pattern matching to help you find solutions to problems. (The full explanation about how this happens, as fascinating as it is, is a little too complex to cover here in a blog post.)
I often get asked by young fire officers how they can get the experienced required to make intuitive decisions. Here are a few things you can do to pre-load your experiences.
1. Read: One of the best ways to build knowledge is through reading.
2. Take classes: Formal training builds a strong foundation of knowledge.
3. Practice evolutions: Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Make sure your practice reflects how you would perform in real fire conditions.
4. Simulations: These are a great way to trick your brain into thinking you’ve actually had the experience when, in reality, it was only a simulation.
5. Study: Become a student of near-miss reports and line-of-duty death reports. There are many lessons contained in these documents that will help you.
BONUS. Get emotional: You heard me right. As you do the things on the list above, make each experience personal and get emotionally invested in it. For example, if you’re reading about a line-of-duty death report, read it as though you’re really there and not as some third-party observer. Emotions cause lessons to seat deep into memory.
Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP
Center for the Advancement of Situational Awareness & Decision Making