“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” So said Einstein then and – despite increasing research on the potency of intuition as a form of knowing – the same could be said now. Intuition is not widely talked about and few leadership and management courses explore its role in decision making, creativity and wider life.
The average person makes thousands of decisions every single day. Many of these decisions are intuitive, for intuition is pervasive in work and personal life and is used – skillfully or unskillfully – by us all.
In our conversations with leaders, some talk about intuition as magic, whilst others are comfortable calling it ‘a hunch’ or a ‘gut feeling’. For others, they prefer the term ‘expert decision making’, thereby acknowledging intuition as generated by experience and expertise. As Dane and Pratt state: intuitions are “affectively charged judgments that arise through rapid, non-conscious, and holistic associations”. You will recognise them as judgments that rise involuntarily, quickly and with feeling. Even in the age of algorithms and big data, it is still the human combination of cognition and feeling that is the superpower.
In many ways, this affective judgement is the only way through which we can make effective decisions, given the complex, ill-structured, relationship-based challenges we face on a daily basis – challenges so complex that we cannot logically think our way around them. We need to access this deeper form of knowing, this gift that Einstein spoke of. It seems that the more we are still, aware and brave, the more we can learn to better access, trust and use our intuition to make good and effective decisions.
Drawing on the research I did exploring intuition in coaching, here are some ideas for cultivating it as a form of knowledge:
- Turn up and tune in: often we are so caught up ‘in our heads’ and distracted by noise that we miss our intuition. By managing our inner state in order to be calm, centered and confident, we have a better chance of listening deeply, noticing physical sensations that arise in our body and trusting those messages about what to do.
- Try it and test it: like anything, our intuitive gifts improve with practice, and the more we become familiar with them, the more we can trust and appropriately apply them. I like sporting metaphors – ‘getting a feel for your batting average’, as suggested by Sadler-Smith and Shefy, makes sense. Get a feel for your intuition by recording it: In what situations do you intuit? What is your level of confidence when you do so? How accurate were you? What was the outcome?
- Talk about it: the more we talk about intuition, particularly as leaders, the more we can make sense of it, be open to it and create the conditions for it to be regarded as the legitimate source of knowing that it is.
- Reference to 35,000 decisions: https://go.roberts.edu/leadingedge/the-great-choices-of-strategic-leaders
- Dane, E. and Pratt, M. (2007), “Exploring intuition and its role in managerial decision-making”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. pp33-pp54.
- Mavor, P., Sadler-Smith, E., Grey, D.E., (2010), Teaching and Learning Intuition: some implications for HRD and coaching practice, Journal of European Industrial Training, (34) 8/9; 822-838
- Sadler-Smith, E. and Shefy, E. (2004), The intuitive executive: understanding and applying ‘gut-feel’ in decision-making, Academy of Management Learning and Education, 18:4: 76-91