Steve Jobs attributed much of his success to his ability to follow his own “inner knowing”, even when analysts and “experts” disagreed. He was quoted as saying that he hated focus groups because consumers “don’t know what they want until we show it to them”. Instead, he insisted on having an “intuitive” feel for when a product was “just right” and when it felt “wrong”.
Where did Steve Jobs get this mindset from?
A big part of his reliance on intuition as opposed to analysis came as a result of his own search for truth. Both instinct and reason are required to make the best possible decision for ourselves, our families and business.
This is not to say that one should reject scientific logic in order to benefit from intuition. Instead, the answer is to learn how to call upon all these tools. When intuition is used, it may seem illogical, but our decision feels right. Gary Klein, in his book “Sources of Power”, emphasizes that true experts do better when they follow their intuition than when they engage in complex analysis.
Leaders who have been able to harness their intuition in decision making are different. They generally experience less confusion and greater clarity, make fewer mistakes and solve problems more easily. They are also more cooperative. As a result, they are happier and more likely to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, many of us often neglect the non conscious part of the brain. The good news is that we can rediscover this particular tool. It can be cultivated.
Intuition is difficult to measure. It can be defined as a process that gives us the ability to know something directly without reasoning, bridging the gap between the conscious and non conscious parts of our mind. It is knowing something without knowing how we know it.
Psychologists and neuroscientists are figuring out why some people seem to be able to tap on their intuition and uncover incredible opportunities. Their insights can help us achieve this high level of capacity and live happier lives.
1. Observe the odd and see connections
Observe things that may appear odd, coincidences and see deeper significance and connections. As knowledge accumulates, the brain unconsciously organizes it in patterns, in what Dr Herbert Simon calls “chunking”. Over time, the brain chunks and links more and more patterns, and store them in our long term memory. When a new event emerges, the brain would instantly recognize it as part of a larger tapestry.
Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered that intuition enables the rapid detection of patterns in ambiguous, uncertain and time restricted context, and acts on unique patterns without consciously analyzing them. This helps business leaders in converting such connections into concrete applications relevant to the company.
2. Meditate to promote creative thinking
The results of a study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato and Dominique Lippelt at Leiden University, published in Mindfulness indicate that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking, even if you have never meditated before.
The study has found that after mindfulness meditation, one becomes “receptive to every thought and sensation”, and participants developed multiple solutions to a problem. Concentration or focusing on an object did not have the same result. The study also indicates that one does not need to be an experienced meditator to profit from meditation.
Meditation has been found to have a lasting impact on human cognition, including how we conceive new ideas. This could involve getting new ideas in business, seeing new and potential business opportunities, sensing a holistic feeling of control in one’s own work. Business leaders should find time for regular meditation.
3. Listen to unconscious mind
Modern science has a good understanding of the fractioning of the conscious and unconscious mind. Studies have shown us that only 20% of the brain gray matter is dedicated to conscious thoughts, while 80% is dedicated to non conscious thoughts. The unconscious mind processes over 2 million pieces of information at a time.
Communicating with our unconscious mind can skyrocket our intuition and help us make better decisions more quickly. This is the “direct knowing” and the inner certainty about one’s own knowing for certain under uncertain circumstances. For example, this can happen when selecting the right products to sell or setting up the direction for the business.
Professor Hodgkinson, interested in the impact of intuition within business, has studied business people use of intuition over deliberate analysis in situations where a swift decision is required. His conclusions are that the first step is to believe and to be open to listening to our inner guidance. The next step is to trust these feelings and take action.
4. Know Thyself
A study published in the Journal Perspectives on Psychological Science has highlighted the fact that we have many blind spots when it comes to understanding our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Indeed, strong emotions can cloud our intuition. Our intuition will fare better if we are able to mindfully accept and let go of negative emotions, rather than suppressing or dwelling on them.
The two components of mindfullness, attention and non judgmental observation, can overcome the major barriers of knowing ourselves. Researchers contend that in order to make sound and rational decisions, one needs first to do an accurate emotional processing. When we engage in such a processing, our emotions accelerate our decision-making process in the form of intuitions, hunches, and gut feelings.
5. Listen to your body
If you have ever felt sick to your stomach when you knew something was wrong but were unable to find the reason, you would understand that intuitions can cause a physical sensation in the body. This is because our guts are lined by an extensive network of neurons that some scientists have called it a “second brain”. This network of neurons in the entire nervous system enables us to “feel” the inner world of our guts and its contents.
A gut feeling is actually every cell in our body making a decision. So, when we get a strong “gut feeling” it is actually every cell in our body remembering, thinking and deciding on the matter at hand. This is the case, for example, when a manager is sensing a voice that says that a particular product will not sell well.
6. Give your empathy a boost
Give your empathy a boost by listening at all levels. Empathy is the ability to map someone’s mental state from their words, emotions, and body language. Psychologists refer to mind reading as “empathetic accuracy”. Life has become so loud and distracting that it is harder to sense what is going on around us. However, the brain is naturally empathetic, having mirror neurons connecting it with people we observe.
Listen at all levels, be in the moment. Check what you are feeling and test your instinct. Soak up all the psychic and emotional static that other people give off. Studies have shown that the more empathetic a person is, the more closely he gets with employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers and peers.
Mosongo Moukwa is a senior level technology manager and a builder of organizations. He has a passion for helping companies improve their profitability by commercializing new technologies in emerging global markets. He regularly writes on issues related to chemicals and materials industries. He is a regular contributor to Business Standard. You can check his regular blogs and other publications at www.mosongomoukwa.com You can also follow him on Twitter @moukwa