Of Bats, Baseballs, Intuition, and Other Important Things

Overcome Your Intuitive Bias“All human knowledge thus begins with intuitions, proceeds thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.” Immanuel Kant


Overcoming Your Intuitive Bias

Try this simple arithmetic problem:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10.

Overcome Your Intuitive Bias

Overcome Your Intuitive Bias

The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

Wasn’t your immediate answer ten cents? Wrong. Think about it. I said the problem is simple; I didn’t say it’s easy.

Over half the students at Harvard, MIT and Princeton gave the intuitive, incorrect answer, according to Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. He says that all of us who gave the ten cents answer revealed two things about ourselves:

1.       We answered without checking the arithmetic.

2.       We missed an obvious social cue: why would anyone include a question with such an obvious answer in a questionnaire?

His conclusion is that many of us place too much reliance on intuition and, as much as we can, avoid thinking – and for good reason. “As we navigate our lives, we normally allow ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings, and the confidence we have in our intuitive beliefs and preferences is usually justified.  But not always.”

I find that many of my coaching clients define the challenges they face intuitively. They begin with assumptions that seem to be obviously valid – like the ten cent ball.   As a coach, I help my clients to see that their intuitive assumptions are a place to start working on a challenge—not an end point.

Kahneman speculates that overcoming our intuitive bias depends less on intelligence than on overcoming automatic thinking. I see this every day. Our assumptions are not usually grounded in what we do best and do not take into account our strengths.  When my clients are coached to look at the challenges they face from that vantage point, they discover new possibilities that they never considered before.

Okay, so how much did the ball cost? Five cents.

Coaching Questions to Ask Yourself:  If you were to use your strengths what would you do differently?  How can you build on what you do well?  What assumptions do you need to challenge?  If you walked around to the other side of this challenge what would it look like it?

If you would like a complimentary session to discuss how coaching might help you to discover new possibilities, you can schedule a session at the website of Dr. Lynn K. Jones.

P.S.  Thanks in advance to anyone who chooses to add their comments to the discussion or wishes to forward the blog link!


Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach, BCC




Your Mojo Maven

Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Board Certified Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US.   Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry.  She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves.  Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, BCC, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment and Leadership at the USC School of Social Work Virtual Academic Center.

BCC Board Certified Coach #1487


  1. LaShasta on March 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    What I thought was the obvious totally surprised me. I thought not the ball would cost five cents, and automatically assumed ten cents. This demonstration certainly gives a very fine example of an unknowing intuitive bias.

  2. Calla Gold on March 8, 2012 at 6:42 am

    So if the ball is a nickel and the bat is a buck, hmmm. The bat cost 1.05?
    You are seriously pushing my math and intuition skills here.
    Yet you fully make your point!
    Think! Yeah I can do that.
    Calla Gold
    “Thinking” Santa Barbara Jeweler

    • Executive Coach on March 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      You got it, Calla! I know what you mean about being pushed on the math skills! LOL.
      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Renee Manseau on March 8, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Ha! I still want to say 10 cents… With the information presented, 10 cents makes sense. Five cents seems arbitrary, like the ball could just as easily cost a penny, or 2 cents, or a nickel and a penny… If the ball costs 5 cents, then the bat is one dollar and five cents more than the ball, right? Or am I missing something here? One dollar and 10 cents minus a dollar equals 10 cents…

    Wait a minute… Wow, it just hit me. Damn my intuition! Very interesting. If the ball cost ten sense, then the bat would only be 90 cents more than the ball, but if it costs 5, then the bat would be a dollar more at 1.05. Tricky! Great, simple way to force your mind to look at the whole picture, not just the final product. Thanks for the brain teaser!

    • Executive Coach on March 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

      You got it faster than I did, Renee. Thanks for the glimpse into your intuitive process!

  4. anon on March 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Simple,but not easy.

    That’s a distinction to ponder.

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