“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”
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 …
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