There is no such thing as a purely logical decision. The brain uses a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions of any kind. That specific emotion, innate to us as humans, is intuition. We possess the capacity to feel, and thereby the ability to know things without consciously reasoning. The “gut feeling” is real, and we use it all the time.
“Going with our gut,” however, implies uncertainty and does not guarantee a good outcome. Sometimes all the hard information we need is right there for us, and we can rely on logic without leaning too much on our gut instincts. But when it’s not, wouldn’t it be nice to know that our gut gives better than a 50/50 chance of success?
Gary Player, the golf legend, often tells this story. Years ago, he was practicing in a bunker and an onlooker approached just in time to see Player hole a sand shot. The onlooker yelled, “Fifty bucks if you do that again,” and Player stepped up and holed the second shot. The guy yelled, “OK, $100 if you do it again.” Sure enough, the third shot went in. As he was paying up, the onlooker said, “I’ve never seen anyone so lucky in my entire life,” to which Player replied, “Well, the more I practice the luckier I get!”
I think we can sharpen our intuition just as a golfer sharpens his or her skills. Gary Player’s dedication to practice increased the probability of success for any given shot. To hone intuition, it’s all about giving our brain more emotional information to work with through life experience to increase the probability of success for any given gut decision. Basically, the more we experience the more accurate our guts become.
Our brains record it all; every meeting, client interaction, presentation, and personal decision. With every experience, the cache of information our brains have at their disposal grows. Think of a jigsaw puzzle. Your brain’s job is to decide what the image is, but it only has one of the 100 pieces to the puzzle. With every relevant experience, another puzzle piece becomes available. Soon, the brain will have enough information to identify the image.
Within an organization, there is a variety of thinking preferences which are naturally intuitive in different ways:
Social thinkers tend to be intuitive by nature. This makes sense, as their thinking revolves around people and relationships, which are not exactly quantifiable. Generally, you can feel good about trusting the social thinkers’ guts when it comes to people-related issues.
Conceptual thinkers may not be able to “show their work” or otherwise explain why they know something. Having a lot of conceptual thinking in your brain is like being the person who could answer the math problem without showing the teacher how you arrived at the answer. They just know. The dots are all connected inside their mind. As long as they understand, that’s good enough.
Analytical thinkers are the opposite of social thinking with regard to intuition. After all, why on earth would anyone make a decision based on anything but sound logic and data analysis? They’d rather have all the information and make a decision from there. But when they have to go with their guts they are actually more accurate than they think because their gut filters through the logical neural-pathways of their brain.
Structural thinkers are often intuitive about time and dates. They are likely to have a good sense of how long a project will take, how long a meeting will last, or what time to leave for an appointment across town. Don’t have a structural preference? Pay attention to someone in your office/home who does. They have the innate ability to understand these things and can help prevent you from putting too many things to do in one day.
- 1/3 of the Expressiveness Spectrum: Just because you are not speaking does not mean you have nothing to say. Having that gut feeling may be distressing for you because you have the idea but you’d prefer to internally process the gut reaction before outwardly communicating it. If normally remaining quiet and introspective is your preference, try stepping out of your comfort zone by sharing your gut feeling.
- 3/3 of the Expressiveness Spectrum: You like to speak your mind on a team or in a group, but be weary of not putting too much faith in just your gut feeling or people may not take your thoughts seriously.
- 1/3 of the Assertiveness Spectrum: If your gut tells you that the project is not going the right direction, pay attention to your gut feeling. As a natural peacekeeper, you’re likely to ignore your gut for the sake of not rocking the boat. But just think about how you’ll feel if the plan doesn’t pan out- you’ll end up wishing you had rocked the boat earlier on.
- 3/3 of the Assertiveness Spectrum: Driving the right ideas in a meeting for you is almost the same as always going with your gut. But with your forceful preferences, it is important to give others the chance who are not as outspoken the opportunity to speak their minds too. Sometimes the best way to follow your gut feeling is to take a step back and see all parts of the argument to make sure yours is credible.
- 1/3 of the Flexibility Spectrum: Once your gut tells you that this is the right direction, you will be focused on what track to follow. Your unwavering focus does not mean you’re closed to change, but that you require a lot of credible information to change your mind from your gut feeling.
- 3/3 of the Flexibility Spectrum: For someone who is very accommodating, you may often second-guess your own intuition. Pay attention to your gut feeling and don’t try to question that feeling because often times it is the right move.
Each of us can still hone our intuition even if we don’t have a strong thinking preference one way or another. For instance, someone without a dominant Social preference still has some level of Social intuition that will be enhanced by every interaction with people. In general, any experience is a good experience, and the more we have of them, the more accurate our gut feelings become.
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