The daily decision-making process of most business leaders, managers and CEOs is exposed to time pressures and other demands making it challenging at times to know if the right decisions are being made. However, we all know timely decision-making is critical to success in business endeavours. Aside from the daily decisions, there are also critical decisions to be made around longer-term issues many leaders don’t make time for, such as significant investments into new projects or opportunities that can aim the business in a new direction. If you are a leader or manager dealing with people, you may have noticed that making complex or high-risk decisions based on logic and fairness alone is challenging. So, how do you evaluate your options to make the most effective decisions for the business while also managing your people and projects?
There is an ongoing debate among managers and researchers about the most effective decision-making process in business. However, it’s not as simple as finding a ‘one size fits all’ solution. For starters, the problem or requirement and the associated risks are often unclear when making decisions and things can change throughout the lifetime of a project. The question is, can we tap into our intuition when making high-risk business decisions? And if so, is intuition a skill that can be learned?
To address these questions, let’s look at one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple. Jobs took a huge risk when changing the direction of the Apple computer when he implemented the next generation of the graphical user interface in the middle of the product’s development roadmap. Making this decision was an incredible testament to his visionary foresight and conviction, but it could have caused Apple to completely fail as there was no certainty of success. What gave him the certitude to proceed with this risky decision? In various interviews, Jobs hinted that he used his intuition to help him make business decisions like this.
Another well-known leader who taps into the power of intuition when making high-risk decisions is current Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He recalls a significant decision in 1998 to return to Apple while working for the top PC company in the world when all signs were pointing to Apple’s demise. Tim followed his intuition – or what he calls a ‘gut feeling’ – deciding to return to Apple despite all the red flags.
Jobs and Cook are two of many examples of visionary leaders who tapped into their intuition when making a major decision.
What does science tell us about intuition in the context of decision-making?
Have you ever been stunned by a great idea that came to you out of nowhere or sensed someone being dishonest with you? Is intuition something that only resides in the realm of mystery? We are programmed to assume that hard work is the only predecessor to success. However, many highly successful people have been interviewed about whether they use what is generally referred to as ‘gut instinct’ or intuition. And they have responded that they contribute a large portion of their success to it. So, what is intuition and how can we use it effectively in our professional lives, especially when we must make a decision or face the consequences of indecision?
Research conducted by Gary Klein PhD and shared in his book The Power of Intuition shows that rescue personnel like firefighters or emergency response teams – who need to make immediate assessments in high-risk situations – use their experience, logical thinking and intuition to decide on a suitable tactical plan. Retrospective analysis, including the use of computer simulation programs, has also revealed that trained human professionals provide the best possible approach – better than any computer could – even when operating under extreme pressure and in the most high-risk situations.
Researchers have identified several ways that intuitive decision-making manifests itself, ranging from reliance on learned experiences, emotions, simple hunches, and subconscious processing to paranormal predictions. The following facts are based on this research and give us more insight into how intuition works.
- Intuition is almost instant.
- Intuition is an automatic and unconscious analytical process.
- Intuition is based on personal experience.
- Intuition engages emotions.
- Intuition forms a basis for creativity and innovation.
How to tap into your intuition when making high-risk decisions
Learning how to apply intuition is a real advantage in any situation and can be used in any professional arena. In one of the programs I facilitate, the Engenesis Influence Leadership Program, business leaders and managers often raise the importance of having to make critical decisions under pressure. To enable the integration of intuition into the decision-making process, it is important to start by acknowledging that it exists. The next step is to establish a baseline for how intuition makes itself known to you since this can be different from person to person. How do you know it is your intuition giving you some information, a hunch or an idea? How is it different from analytical thinking? What does it feel like and how do you perceive it? Is it a voice, a picture, a feeling or all of these things? Intuition has a personal fingerprint; everyone experiences it differently, so you need to develop the awareness to discover how intuition ‘speaks’ to you.
Consider a time when you have either stepped over an intuitive hunch or ignored acting upon it. How did it feel? How did it impact your results? Next, compare this to a time when you did follow your intuitive hunch and how that felt and influenced the outcome. Often, people report that they were aware of intuitive guidance and felt like they let themselves down by not following up on it. This is one of the most common regrets I hear from my clients.
Once you become more in tune with your intuition or gut feeling and learn how to trust it, you can apply it more frequently. Intuition also helps you avoid ‘paralysis analysis’, where no matter how much more thinking and analytical skills you apply, it will never be enough to take decisive action. Once you get used to integrating intuition into your decision-making, you will find that it gives you the sense that you are doing the right thing, resulting in peace of mind and faith in your ability to make decisions, even in high-risk situations.