Go with your gut


 “Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant.” Bob Samples

There is a wonderful Dilbert cartoon where the “pointy haired boss” looking at a piece of paper says “the second option feels right. Let’s go with that.”

Dilbert replies “Should we always ignore what the data says, or is this more of a one-time thing?”

Pointy haired boss replies “It’s called intuition” to which Dilbert responds “It’s a slippery slope to witchcraft”.

This beautifully sums up some of my own experiences, observations and fears about intuition.

When I wrote my first ever blog in September 2015, I said there would be one on intuition sometime soon, and here it is – number 21.

That tells me something. I have been a bit reluctant to write about it and it’s taken me all this time to feel comfortable enough to write it for a number of reasons;

  • I’m not entirely sure what it is although drawing on others’ views and experiences I will try to explain
  • I notice it being used routinely in business and organisational life, but somehow it doesn’t get the credit, and is even feared or disparaged (as in the Dilbert cartoon)
  • I appear to be quite intuitive and it scares me a bit

So why now? Well of course you know what’s coming. My intuition has told me now is the right time!

It’s been brewing for a while and when a very senior client said to his team this week “Go with your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable with it then don’t do it”, I just knew it was the right time.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines intuition as “the ability to understand or know something immediately, without conscious reasoning”.

And therein, perhaps, lies the problem.

In our society, rational thinking is privileged. It is highly prized in fact. Strategy houses and MBAs are overrun by tools and processes to guide our rational decision making.

Yet we routinely make decisions using our gut without even thinking about it …

Psychologist Dr. Gary Klein is renowned for his pioneering research with the U.S. Marine Corps, firefighters, pilots, software trouble-shooters and business leaders in determining the role intuition plays in effective performance. There is a great article here on his work; http://www.fastcompany.com/40456/whats-your-intuition

Klein says “Many people think of intuition as an inborn trait – something we are born with. I am not aware of any evidence showing that some people are blessed with intuition, and others are not. My claim is that intuition grows out of experience.”

He defines intuition as “the way we translate our experience into action”.

In other words, it’s not some gift from above or witchcraft (that one’s for you Dilbert), but a process which draws on our life experience and enables us to make decisions very quickly without long, complicated analysis and conscious thought.

When Klein started studying intuition, the concept was seen as unscientific and he avoided using the term “intuition” when presenting at conferences because it made people want to dismiss his research. It was only when he discovered that the U.S. Marine Corps introduced the term “intuitive decision making” in their manual on command and control, and compared it favourably with analytical decision making, that he decided maybe he could start using the term too.

I draw on my intuition constantly, as I’m sure you do. I’m becoming more comfortable with it, and more confident at talking about it, but it’s a slow and emergent process, because I find, as Klein did, that others can dismiss it.

I remember an occasion in a Senior Leadership Team meeting where we were considering a few options and were about to make a very big and important decision. I noticed that I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable about the way the conversation was heading and the likely decision. I knew my colleagues well and felt respected and trusted enough to take a little risk. I said “I’m really concerned about this. It just doesn’t FEEL right and I think we should listen to our feelings sometimes.” At that moment a big ball of tumbleweed made its slow, yet deliberate, journey across the Board table. Eyes diverted to the walls, to fingernails, shoes, papers, anywhere but towards me. The most senior person in the room made a quiet harrumphing sound and said “Anyway … moving on”.

That was it, my confidence was shattered, I had no courage left to challenge and we went on to make the decision I felt intuitively was wrong. I still wish I had been confident enough to challenge again and am curious what would have happened, but now I’ll never know.

When completing my Masters degree in Organisational Change at Ashridge Business School a couple of years ago, the faculty members first noticed my intuition and then encouraged me to write about it in my dissertation. I inquired into it a little and discovered it may well have developed into a key strength due to some early life experiences. As a result of those experiences I appear to have developed some skills in intuition which are enormously helpful for me now as I work with groups and their dynamics in my consulting and coaching work.

I resisted their encouragement to investigate it further through the dissertation process – that was just too challenging a prospect. I wrote a short poem which helped me to make my decision in June 2014.

Here it is;

“She is mine”

 We flirt

Not for the first time

Eyes lock across the dance floor

She makes me smile

And laugh out loud

She scares me sometimes too

My friends push me

It’s time to dance they say

Go for it!

But it is not time

She told me so

Her name is intuition

And she is mine

Faced with that decision again I would still make the same choice. I wrote my dissertation about the role of Psychological Safety at work instead. It felt somehow safer!

My intuition feels like a lovely gift. I am grateful for it, work with it and honour it, but it scares me just enough that I avoid thinking too deeply about it.

Here are two of my favourite quotes which incorporate a reference to intuition;

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Steve Jobs

“Intuition is the key to everything, in painting, filmmaking, business – everything. I think you could have an intellectual ability, but if you can sharpen your intuition, which they say is emotion and intellect joining together, then a knowingness occurs.” David Lynch

I encourage you to listen to and honour your intuition from time to time. After all, if it isn’t witchcraft but simply “the way we translate our experience into action” as Klein asserts, what is there to fear? Experiment, hold it lightly, learn and see what emerges.

Until the next time …

Helen @orient8you

m; 07814 390115

An Instrument of Change

clock“Change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not.” Arnold Beisser M.D.

The first few coaching sessions with James, a Director in a large global organisation, were challenging. Although he was clear on the need for coaching and had requested it, his agenda was less obvious. We knew the context, the situation but the specific thing to be worked on wasn’t clear from the start and didn’t really emerge over those early sessions.

I worked hard, REALLY hard, trying to help – to find the right question, the right observation, the right nudge. But they eluded me.

In one session, genuinely stuck, and at a loss what to do, I explained that was how I was feeling and said to him “I don’t really know how to help you”. It was a big and difficult decision for me to say that. After all, as a coach I might be expected to know how to help in any situation. And to James I may seem incompetent and not worthy of the investment of his time. We hadn’t been working together long enough for him to be sure I was worth working with.

He didn’t know how I could help him either he said.

We muddled our way through to the end of the session and I left feeling exhausted and hugely frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t I find the right question? What was stopping me from doing a good job?

I had some supervision and planned how I would approach the next session. I was ready to name the stuckness in our sessions. Was it, I would wonder out loud, indicative in any way of how he was feeling – both stuck in his career and in his life? This might shift things a bit, move us along. It was worth a try.

And then James turned up looking both invigorated and yet more at peace with himself. He knew exactly what he wanted to work on and we worked well together till he had a clear plan of action at the end of the session. It was really quite remarkable.

What had made the difference? It’s not possible to pin it down to just one thing as a number of things had occurred between sessions, but one stood out a little more than the others.

He mentioned it at the very start of the session. He had reflected on our last conversation and wondered if he was wasting MY time. He clearly felt uncomfortable about that possibility. He reflected on what we had tried to explore and the way we had gone round in circles and off on tangents aplenty without ever landing on anything long enough to do the work that was required.

He had also reflected on what had happened since – the conversations that had taken place, the meetings, the presentations, and come to the realisation that he is quite capable of leading the big change agenda he is tasked with. In fact, he believes he’s just the man for the job.

This was a big change from the man who had been at the previous session – lacking confidence and worrying about being found out. (As many leaders are, and do, by the way.)

The thing that seemed to make the biggest difference however was my observation about not knowing how to help. He was “unstuck” by that observation. It had spurred him on somehow to deep reflection and some new actions.

This can happen in a coaching relationship. Although we do what is sometimes referred to as “the work” in the sessions, much of the change occurs between sessions as the client experiments and tries things out for size.

My coaching practice is heavily influenced by Gestalt psychology. A central principle in this approach is the coach’s “use of self” as an instrument of change.

Through this use of self, the coach establishes a presence that supports the client to raise his/her awareness of a situation and their role within it.

By working in the “here and now” and noticing the impact the client is having on me as coach, I can share that insight. There are important decisions to be made though – I have to choose whether and how to share it. Do I think it might help, and can I do it in a way that means it is truly heard?

Often the behaviours which the client needs to change play out in the session and by sharing my experience of them I can help the client become more aware of their behaviour and their impact on others.

The other benefit from sharing my own internal landscape in this session was, in the words of Dorothy E. Siminovitch and Ann M. Van Eron, to “ground the interaction in an intimacy that supports taking important personal risks that the client might otherwise perceive as too threatening.” * In other words it encouraged James to open up more, to become a little braver himself.

This “use of self” is not learned in a prescriptive manner – as we all draw on our unique experiences and knowledge. In my coaching work I draw on all my business and life experience and sometimes use models and techniques that I have learned. But mostly it’s just me. I am the “instrument of change”. My presence, my intuition, my questions, my observations, my interventions are the ingredients that I bring that are different – the ingredients that would otherwise be missing in the client’s world.

One of the most surprising, and lovely things about coaching work is that I never know what will be the difference that makes the difference. I might think I have a killer question that will get the heart of the matter, when in fact a simple silence, held in just the right way, or an observation about just how I’m feeling, has a transformative impact.

This is what makes this special work such a joy, such an adventure, and so rewarding.

Until the next time …

Helen @orient8you

*Source; “The Pragmatics of Magic. The Work of Gestalt Coaching.” By Dorothy E. Siminovitch and Ann M. Van Eron

(The photo I have chosen is not just because it is an instrument too – a barometer I think, but because of the name Schon which is featured. Donald Schon was a philosopher who contributed to theories of organisational learning. He wrote of the need for us to reflect both “in action” – thinking on our feet, and “on action” –  after the fact, as James did. A rather lovely coincidence I think.

“James” is not a real person – he is a composite of several clients. The story is true, but it is a combination of several stories to protect client confidentiality.)


The Power of Community


“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community – a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” Thich Nhat Hanh

A friend alerted me to this wonderful quote recently. It was one of several conversations I’ve found myself in during the last few weeks on the subject of community. I’m not really sure what one is as I’m at the beginning of my understanding and I haven’t yet found a suitable definition. There are many but none feels just right.

If I was to have a go with my current understanding it would be something like this;

“A group of people who are connected by invisible threads which bind them loosely in a web of love and understanding. In community we hold each other, we look out for each other, we give and receive tough love and we do good stuff together.”

That’ll do for now, but my understanding is evolving daily so by next week it’ll probably be different.

I’m a self employed person who is a full on ambivert. I need my introverted alone time but I need my extroverted team time too. When I’m working with peers or clients my extroverted needs are met, and when I’m in my office alone, my introvert is happy – most of the time. But there are times when I feel lonely, sometimes desperately so. These are the times I usually turn to twitter. It’s a place where I feel at home – where people I have met through that medium hang out, chat, post interesting stuff, inspire me. And I can watch what’s emerging on a particular day, like some kind of voyeur, or if I feel the need to connect further I can join in the conversation. Either way, my loneliness soon dissipates. This to me is community and it’s lovely. There’s no competition, just love, support and understanding – and the occasional intellectual spat or disagreement done in a largely light-hearted and humorous way.

A few years ago, fed up of being house bound when the snow came, (I live on a hill), I wrote to my neighbours – about fifty homes in total. This is the note I pushed through all the letterboxes nearby.



When I was a little girl my Dad used to leave the house around 6am for work. We lived in Leeds and the winters back then were treacherous – snow, ice and howling winds – at least on our corner.

Dad would make me a cup of tea every day around 5.30am and on the days when the snow had just fallen, I would soon be “togged up” (Yorkshire phrase?) and out there with my shovel.

I helped Dad to clear the snow from the drive and then all the way up the rest of the street so that he and all the neighbours could get out safely.

We lived on a cul-de-sac and the gritter lorry almost never came – sound familiar? – so we had to do it ourselves.

We were never alone. The rest of the Dads, some of the Mums and lots of eager little “helpers” were out there too.

Last year when I was snow bound in XXXX Close for several days despite my best efforts to get out, I reflected on my childhood and wondered where that community spirit had gone.

The snow is coming, it’s an Olympic and Jubilee year and we are all no doubt having a bit of a tough time economically.

So I wondered if you would care to join in a bit of XXXX Close spirit and let’s work together to clear our way all the way to XXXX Road.

It will be cold, but only for a little while as we’ll soon warm up, it will look great when it’s done and it will feel good to have achieved it together – imagine the satisfaction!

Who knows, you might even enjoy it!

I’m up for it, are you?

My name is Helen and I live at number X.

Have a wonderful (white) weekend!”

There was an amazing response. About twenty people showed up and we cleared the snow in no time. We had a good giggle in the process too. And some of those people are now really good friends as well as neighbours. We might have nodded as we passed each other before whereas now we socialise together and help each other out. I know I can rely on them and they can rely on me too. I feel part of a community which makes me feel safe and happy.

In these times of terror, war, fractured societies and busy lives, it is easy to forget the power of connection. And it really doesn’t take much, but we do have to DO something. We need to reach out, hold and be held. And feel the love. Yes – we have to feel the love – that’s the best bit!

Until the next time…

Helen @orient8you

(The picture at the top is a colour pencil drawing of one of my Buddha statues. I’m a novice at drawing and an occasional meditator, but not a Buddhist. I kind of love the idea that the next Buddha will be a community)