"Muscle Memory" - bridging the Gap?

In another part of our website, Expanding Vocabulary, we try to show the difference between instinct and intuition as ways of resolving a problem. Essentially, the first is something we're born with and it's powerful but not easy to apply, while the second can be learned, with a basis in experience. However, that's quite a big gap, and it takes time to gain the right experience, so here's a possible Third Way.

Muscle Memory is something athletes understand quite well. Without going too deeply into the psychology, it's about the brain storing memories of movements and actions that have been performed and repeated very often. It's the idea of being able to ride a bike, swim a smooth stroke, or use a standard keyboard, even if we couldn't reproduce it on a blank sheet of paper. The more we do it, the brain supports the body and the more skillful we become.

So in a business situation, it can help if people have practised something many times, but are reasonably conscious of what they're doing - they do it effectively without thinking too hard. They don't need to look at a manual or "reinvent the wheel". This works well for low-risk, routine activities which can be a big part of the day, although a more systematic approach (using intuition and relevant data) is still best when it's something more important, like a decision.


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