Weighing up the odds - learn to trust your gut
Are you falling guts over heads when making a business decision?
Steve Jobs once said that there’s no reason not to follow your heart. He was referring to trusting your intuition.
In a highly complex and changeable global business environment the trust in intuition is alluring. Many top leaders, such as Richard Branson or Steve Jobs attributed their success to having followed their intuition.
They said that following their gut instincts guided them to faster, more accurate decisions.
Well, great for them. But what about you - do you know when to rely on your gut and when not to?
It’s seductive to believe in the transformative power of intuition, thinking that our subconscious mind will automatically deliver the right answer.
In a broad sense, the idea that we can make successful decisions without deliberate analytical thought, explains the nature of intuition. So should you rely on the unconscious information in your brain or body to guide your behaviour? Yes and no.
Typically, you may turn to your intuition to guide you through when you are facing a challenging decision and are not sure what to do.
If you’re an executive faced with a pressing complex decision, for example, about making a big investment in a new product, you may turn to your gut as a basis for making the business decision.
But if you think that intuition is a substitute for reason you are making an illusory assumption.
From the evolutionary point of view, our instincts exist for a reason. The power of gut reaction was much more useful for our ancestors to avoid danger and thrive in the environment. It was all about survival.
This was our primitive way of using intuition that differs from the contemporary way of living and how we go about our business nowadays.
Reaching for scientific answers can give us insights into the nature of our brains.
Human minds have two modus operandi in order to manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours - intuitive, subconscious, emotion based mode; and analytical, conscious, intentional mode of thinking.
Whenever we make decisions we are using both the rational and emotional part of the brain. Depending on the nature of the situation, sometimes our decisions tend to be based more on logic than emotion and vice versa, however there’s no strictly emotional or rational decision making.
"But if you think that intuition is a substitute for reason you are making an illusory assumption"
Since both parts of the brain are not mutually exclusive, there’s a logical explanation behind our intuition that is actually based on a combination of our knowledge, experience, wisdom, memory, and random flashes of insight.
As we live under constant information overload, we tend to automatically turn to heuristics (mental shortcuts) to make decisions. This is where we use our intuition.
However, our intuition will be of little value if we don’t have prior expertise in a given situation.
Let’s say, that if you haven’t managed a large account in the past but are faced with it now, there’s a significant risk that your intuition in this situation might be an unreliable decision making tool.
However if the opposite is true and you have a lot of experience in this area, your brain has more information to match the current experience against. This makes your intuitions more reliable.
For example, if you are a product development manager, in order to develop accurate intuitive judgments about placing a new product on the market, you would need to repeatedly engage in making decisions about new products and receive rapid and accurate feedback on whether those decisions were good ones or not.
Here you should connect sound factual information gathered by data with your intuition. Basically, it’s the repetition of certain experiences that anchors intuitive learning in your brain that can be used in new situations.
But it’s not just your past experience that decides how accurate your intuition is – learning to recognize and interpret your emotions will provide signals of previous patterns and experiences. Learning what they indicate and their reliability improves your ability to know when to count on your intuition.
However, emotions are changeable so when you run into a difficult situation do not be surprised if your intuition is no longer generating the outcomes you expect.
The point is that, whenever you want to make an accurate intuitive judgment on a particularly complex issue, you need to accept that intuitive and analytic thinking should occur together, and be weighed up against each other in difficult decision-making situations.
Only when your intuition is balanced with rationality, experience and facts, can you avoid the risk of making wrong decisions. At the same time your intuitive ability will be strengthened allowing you to make fast, efficient and accurate decisions.
Zana Busby is a Business & Consumer Psychologist, author of the book Life Equilibrium and a Director at Retail Reflections