BUSINESS is all about systems – rational, orderly systems for strategic planning, decision-making, forecasts, budgeting, operations, administration, production and practically ever other facet of an organisation. Advanced information technology has intensified the situation, making systematisation more affordable and easier to implement.
Yet, amid all this efficient electronically-driven methodology, business leaders the world over are increasingly acknowledging that many vital decisions, career choices and even fortunes are based intuition or ‘gut feel’.
In fact, a growing number of top executives – including retired chairman and CEO for Hewlett Packard, Lewis Platt and Darwin Clark, vice president for General Motors Europe – are ignoring the old stigma associated with an unscientific or illogical approach to management and have begun looking at ways of developing their intuition further.
Scientific research indicates that they might have found the elusive management edge.
Professor John Mihalasky of the New Jersey Institute of Technology is convinced that effective, superior decision-making correlates highly with intuitive ability. During his research he tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. One of his experiments included 25 managers who had held top decision-making jobs for five years. Mihalasky selected them all from small manufacturing companies to ensure that committees had not diffused their decision-making. The results were remarkable: Of 25 men selected, 12 had doubled their companies’ profits in five years. Eleven of those 12 scored high on the intuitive test.
Other management researchers have observed the same correlation. Weston Agor, author of Intuitive Management: Integrating Left and Right Brain Management Skills, studied several thousand managers from across numerous industries and companies. He found that successful managers make effective use of intuitive decision-making.
Henry Mintzberg, professor of management at Montreal’s McGill University, also found that particularly in unpredictable and ambiguous situations, top managers rely on hunches to deal with problems that are “too complex for rational analysis”.
Intuitive thinking is a normal function of the brain, not a euphemism for clairvoyance or mystical precognition. It is, says intuitive management specialist, Roger Andersen “more than a hunch, instinct or simply wishful thinking. It is the instant acquisition of knowledge without conscious thought and absolute certainty upon discovering the right answer”.
Traditionally business has mistrusted intuitive responses because they have been understood to be based on feelings rather than facts. In fact, says Andersen, intuition is most effectively used when it supplements – rather than supplants – rational decision-making techniques. In partnership with rational, left-brain thought, intuition – which is housed in the right side of the brain, along with things like creativity, originality, imagination and emotions – can, he believes, empower individuals to work more effectively, efficiently and intelligently.
Most researchers claim that intuition can be developed. Madeleine van der Steege, MD of Johannesburg corporate coaching service, Leadership Action and Alignment, concurs: “Intuition or ‘expressing the inner voice’ is a cornerstone of emotional quota and emotional literacy, and is a major focus of executive coaching.”
She believes that in many cases intuition is very logical but this is sometimes only apparent in hindsight. Coaching helps individuals to trust their intuition and access right- and left-brain thinking, combine the two responses and come up with the best possible decision.
A critical first step to developing intuition is learning to listen to intuitive signals being sent from the brain. These messages are usually screened out as being irrational – which they are. Learning how to tune in to one’s intuitive radar is required to make use of such non-rational thoughts that may have previously been ignored.
Coaching, says Van der Steege, helps executives and teams access their intuition to review patterns, habits, pressures and uncertainties they face, rather than relying totally on memorised facts or technical analysis. It provides a safe environment in which people can integrate intuitive and rational intelligence and see the powerful results that follow.
Dr Marcia Emery of the Intuitive Management Consulting Corporation in California and author of PowerHunch, believes that business managers need – more than ever – to hone their intuitive skills to process the voluminous data that is synonymous with the information age.
“I have seen more and more leaders and business people using intuition to make crucial decisions and achieve remarkable successes, both in their and business and their personal lives. They have learnt that logic and intuition are necessary companions. Logic helps you organise and assess the forest of information in which we live. Intuition ignites the visions and insights that inspire you. Both logic and intuition are required to turn your visions into reality, to make your dreams come true.”
Develop your intuition to:
• Increase your confidence in risk-taking
• Resolve compelling situations in a quick and inspired manner
• Differentiate intuition from fear, doubt and desire
• Reduce stress to retrieve clear perspectives
• Advance problem-solving or brainstorming sessions
(First published in Business Day’s Management Review supplement.)