How many times have you “felt” like you were making the wrong decision, but did so anyway? That’s probably because your intuition was telling you that this was the wrong thing to do. But you ignored that feeling because you are a rational person, and you make your judgments based on facts, not feelings. All the facts pointed one way, so you made the wrong decision, and felt really bad about it.
What Is Intuition?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines intuition as the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason. If we go strictly by this definition,intuition is more like magic than reality. Yet, over the years, I have found myself making more and more important decisions based on intuition (my feelings) rather than the facts I see in front of me. I have also seen this happen with many of the more senior CEOs I coach. It seems that as they become more experienced, they tend to make more decisions based on what they feel in their gut. And those decisions seem to work out well for them.
What’s going on here? Shouldn’t the facts and figures be more important than the way we feel about something. Perhaps so, but seasoned executives can look at all the facts, particularly when they seem to line up and make sense, and still do something different simply because their intuition was telling them to.
How can intuition play such a valuable part in our decision making? Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, stated in his book “Winning” (which I highly recommend), that: “Sometimes making a decision is hard not because it is unpopular, but because it comes from the gut and defies a ‘technical’ rationale. Much has been written about the mystery of gut, but it’s really just pattern recognition, isn’t it. You’ve seen something so many times you just know what’s going on this time. The facts may be incomplete or the data limited, but the situation feels very, very familiar to you.”
What Jack is saying to us is that we have been around long enough to recognize things that may not be obvious or clear. Your gut is recognizing patterns that you have seen before in your previous experiences, and pointing you in a direction that is comfortable with you. In the process, you are likely to make the right decision.
Bringing It All Together
Intuition combines our experience with non-verbal cues we perceive. It digs down into our memory and grabs bits of information we may have consciously forgotten. We sense things because we have a basis upon which to compare and contrast what we are seeing and hearing. The bottom line is that we have taken everything we have learned and we are applying it that to a situation to make a decision.
Interestingly, as far back as the 1970s, Yale University did a study on intuition (using non-verbal cues). The researchers found that highly intuitive subjects made decisions quickly, but couldn’t really state what the rationale was for the decision. But the level of accuracy was no less than those who were non-intuitive and made decisions based on facts and observations.
So what does all of this mean? Essentially, the more experienced we become, the better our intuition (which is really a form of pattern recognition) becomes. It is more reliable, and more likely to identify situations where the facts, as presented, don’t necessarily point to the best decision. If you have made a bad decision, and your intuition told you not to do it, learn from that mistake. Begin to trust your intuition, and use it as part of your decision-making process.