The Intuitive Power In Your Workplace

Leslie Kossoff
©1999 All Rights Reserved

From the beginning of history to the present intuition has played an invaluable role in the lives of successful business people yet it has never received the attention and acknowledgement it deserves. Intuition is the ability each of us has to know something directly - without an analytic process. The kind of information which can be known intuitively ranges from getting a "feeling" about someone or something to knowing very specific and necessary data. In his autobiography Conrad Hilton told the following story which began his career in the hotel industry. "My first bid, hastily made, was $165,000. Then somehow that didn't feel right to me. Another figure kept coming, $180,000. It satisfied me. It seemed fair. It felt right. I changed my bid to the larger figure on that hunch. When they were opened, the closest bid to mine was $179,800. I got the Stevens Corporation by a narrow margin of $200. Eventually the assets returned me $2 Million."

A recent survey of managers reported that while all of them use, trust and rely on their intuition, many said that they were the only ones who made decisions that way - none of their colleagues did.

Intuition is the best kept secret of business decision-making. It is used successfully by most executives, managers and all personnel, yet it is suspect to talk openly about how one "feels" about a situation, or ones "gut reaction." This "split" was most clearly demonstrated to me when talking to the new product development team of a large, very well-known corporation. Six of the seven people involved in a decision to release a new product had an "uncomfortable feeling" about it yet said nothing because there were no analytic figures to back up the feeling. The product failed miserably costing the company several hundred million dollars. In talking to other new product development groups I learned that this is not an isolated incident - it happens regularly. What if one person had had the courage to say something like: "I really don't know where this comes from, but I have a very uncomfortable feeling about releasing this product now which I can't explain. How do the rest of you feel about it?" Intuition is not a substitute for analytic thinking. It is non-analytic data which is an equally important piece of the decision-making process. Analytic data is based on the past and gives an overview of similar circumstances. Intuition enhances analytic thinking and focuses on the present situation, providing insights as to timing, specific strategy and innovative alternatives.

Contrast the above corporate scenario to the entrepreneur who has more independence in making decisions. An owner of a construction company in New York City shared with me about how he began using his intuition to make business decisions. At first he made all of his decisions analytically, looking at the jobs that came across his desk from the perspective of whether he could make money doing them or not. This method worked moderately well, but he knew he could do better. He began asking himself "how do I really feel about this job?" after he went over the numbers. The results were astounding. Often a job which looked great on paper felt "uncomfortable." He passed on those jobs only to discover that the construction company which took it ran into many problems. It also worked the other way. Jobs which didn't look like they could be profitable on paper felt "good." These turned into gold mines and his ability to pick successful projects skyrocketed.

Intuition is a simple, yet powerful tool. Because it works in ways which are mysterious to our analytic minds it is often ignored or discounted. Corporate organizations especially have a difficult time openly allowing intuition into the decision-making process, although it goes on privately all the time.

When companies can incorporate the intuitive process the results are staggering. The Wall Street Journal reported that DuPont reduced its new product development time from three years to three months - using intuitive techniques. Kingston Technology was reported in Inc. magazine to encourage and use intuition in both their customer service and in deciding which new products to develop - 90% of their new products are incredibly successful.

Intuition can be developed. It can be incorporated into the team decision-making process effectively. Making decisions without openly using intuition ignores a vast amount of non-analytic data which can make the difference between success and failure.

You can begin today to tap your own intuitive power and the intuitive wisdom of those who work with and for you. Here are a few ways to get started:

Ask: Before making any decision - stop and ask yourself how you really feel about what you are about to do. Also, when working with a group, ask everyone how they really feel. It helps to disclose your own intuitive impressions to encourage others to talk about theirs.

Be Attentive: Intuitive insight is often the very first impression that occurs when faced with a new situation. Catching that first impression takes practice. One way to restimulate a first impression is to ask yourself: "If this had a smell, what would it be? How would it taste? If I had to make a decision right this moment, what would it be?"

Keep Track: Begin an intuition journal - jotting down your intuitive impressions and tracking your results. Once you experience how accurate your intuitions are - you will pay more attention - and so will others. In just about every workplace there are those who are regularly called upon to give their intuitive "feel" of something, based on their track record of having successful "hunches."

Use Power Moments: Begin team meetings by asking everyone to take a moment of silence to collect their thoughts about the meetings' agenda and write down a few personal thoughts, experiences and feelings as they occur. Then go around and ask everyone to mention something they wrote on their list. This simple moment adds focus, depth, participation and wisdom without taking much time or effort. Try it yourself before going into a meeting and watch how much more involved and prepared you are.

Use intuition as an additional source of information, not a substitute for critical thinking. Think for a moment about all the factors that are influencing a project you are working on right now. Unknown events in the near or far future will affect what you are planning right now. The good news is that we have an intuitive ability which somehow takes it all in and provides guidance on the most successful way to proceed.

There are three main attributes of intuition which deeply conflict with the current corporate environment. Although strongly rooted in the present system, they are not insurmountable and companies focused for the future are already in the process of developing new systems more open to the intuitive process. The three attributes of intuition in conflict with current corporate structure are:

Non-hierarchical: Intuitive skill is not based on formal education or years of experience. It has to do with insight and awareness. Someone who is at the bottom of the corporate pyramid may have an intuition about where the company needs to go and how to handle a specific situation which is equal to or greater than someone at the top of the pyramid. Strategically gathering the intuitive insights non-hierarchically can greatly increase the chances for business success.

Non-analytic: Intuitively we can know what to do way before we know why we are doing it. A story gathered by Dr. Marcia Emery illustrates: "I was doing my morning stretching exercises as part of a program called 'Corporate Athletes.' While exercising, I suddenly had a sense that something was wrong and left to go to the area where we had a new product displayed. I found a problem that no one caught in all the testing we had done. By finding this problem, I prevented the company from liabilities that would have come from this product. Then the supplier of a new product we were displaying was called in to fix this defect. After five days of looking at the problem with their engineers and ours, they arrived at a very costly fix. The next day I spent a few minutes looking at the problem and came up with a very inexpensive fix that all the engineers had overlooked." Encouraging employees to follow-up on hunches and gut feelings and how to communicate "non-analytic" information has not been encouraged by most companies and many preventable problems run their full course, waiting for "analytic" proof before taking action.

Unpredictable: Intuition is unpredictable in a couple of ways. The information and guidance received intuitively may be way outside the boundaries the company is willing to go and intuitive information may not be forthcoming when needed. It can not be relied upon in the same way that analytic data can be. Intuitive information can be developed and incorporated into the decision-making process, but it will never conform to rules and regulations. Learning to wait for the right time to act, allowing key factors to emerge and changing course direction in mid-stream are all intuitive activities which by their nature cannot be planned for.

As my friend and colleague Ann McGee Cooper says: "There are at least two ways to approach life, time and work. One way is the logical, practical, convergent way: define a task and get it done. The other is the innovative, intuitive, divergent way: define a task, then do something else." At first this looks absurd, yet on closer look we have all experienced the need for an idea or project to "cook on the back burner" of our minds before it is ready to come together. Every business person knows the importance of having good timing. Strategic planning in the current corporate environment is becoming less focused on the details of a 3-5 year plan and more focused on building collective vision and mission. This allows intuition to play a more important role in both planning and implementing.

As a source of valuable information, intuition is at least equal to analytic data. The methods needed to gather intuitive information require the skills of listening, expanded awareness, and sensitivity to subtle factors. And yes, you can go about your business life ignoring your intuition and get by, but it is like hiring a contractor to do some work on your home without getting several bids. You can do it, but it is risky with information from only one source.


Nancy Rosanoff is the author of The Idiot's Guide to Making Money Through Intuition, and a frequent guest on The Small Business Advocate Show.

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