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Can You Trust Your Instinct When Making Important Business Decisions?

17th Aug , 2018

Any business coach or mentor will tell you that instinct can be important when making business decisions. Over a decade ago, Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book ‘Blink’ was published with a controversial and scientific explanation of what is behind decision making. Gladwell celebrated the art of what he termed snap decision making, i.e. “the power of not thinking”, and he asserted the provocative case that “Great decision makers aren’t those who process the most.”

Gladwell stated simply that a central pillar of our western rational philosophy is that the longer we spend or the more effort we put into making a decision, the better the decision will be, and this belief system is prevalent. You can see the result of this everywhere. For example, if a person isn’t happy with a diagnosis, they’ll usually ask for more tests, or if unsure about a business decision, they may seek business coaching for a second opinion.

This same belief system underpins our attitude and approach in the workplace. The more data we get, the more analytical we become, as we believe that the more analytical we learn to be, the better prepared we are. For Gladwell, this was misleading, as it played down the role of our instincts, or what the psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer dubbed “fast and frugal thinking” – or decisions that we make in the blink of an eye.

The successful leaders and managers have always had good instincts. For example, Sri Sharma, founder and managing director of the paid search agency Net Media Planet, said that he has often relied on his “personal radar” to build his company from a single person start-up to a multi-million pound business, as it allowed him to think fast and make decisions.

Sri Sharma said, “I think of your instinct, your gut feeling, as a personal radar that is built up over the years,” and “Often the data you analyse confirms what your instincts tell you from your personal radar, but it can’t replace it. Instinct is vital.”

Does Instinct Play Less of a Role in the Decision-Making Process Today?

It was a very different world a decade ago when Gladwell was writing his book, and over the years since, the world is being quantified like never before. In particular, business intelligence, analytics packages and information databases combine to give companies unprecedented statistical data and hopefully greater understanding of their customers or client base. All this multitudinous data is gathered under the umbrella of “big data”, which deals with the tidal wave of statistics that floods in day after day.

In the Face of Such a Wealth of Data, What Place is there Left for Instinct, If Any?

“But data is only insight, not an answer,” Sharma says, and overall, he thinks it’s had a positive effect in the workplace and “There is definitely more data today, and as a result, better decisions are being made with an upward progression of good decisions.”

Dr. Martin Clarke, program and business director at Cranfield School of Management, agrees with Sharma. “Data does not provide the answer,” he says. Though some leaders and managers can fall prey to what he calls “management by spreadsheet”, the real challenge is always to interpret the data, and he feels there is “no shortage of instinctive decision makers” doing that today.

Rather, Clarke thinks there is a different consequence of the booming data in that “It has made the decision-making process more complex, more messy.” This is due to the significant increase in data to go through, with many more people involved and more perspectives to consider.

For Clarke, decision making has become more of a diplomatic process than in the past. “You might know the right decision because you have 20 years’ experience working in a sector, but you might have to sacrifice 20% of this right answer to please everyone. What you end up with is what I call the best answer, because it satisfies the greatest number of people. That is the balance you have to achieve.”

Has this Proliferation of Data Made People Less Decisive?

The fear is that too much data can lead to what psychologists call analysis paralysis, i.e. the idea that having too much data can hinder the accuracy of decisions or the speed with which they are made. Clarke thinks not. “If we are more cautious, it is not because of data but of economic uncertainty.”

Chris Cartney, a leading general manager of International Business Mentors who works with and analyses managers, has a different take. Chris worries about the difficulties people have in handling the amount of data and simply processing or archiving it efficiently. Chris critically considers the biggest problems lie in the interpretation by leaders and managers of the data and divining the core conclusions or truths. Chris believes that balancing insight and instinct is vital for all of today’s leaders and managers. She also thinks it can be particularly dangerous to make decisions when emotions are strongly impacting the instinctive thinking process.

This balance considered by Chris Cartney between data analysis and instinct with emotions has long been pondered by Sharma at Net Media Planet. “Managers have to rely on their instincts, but the time not to do so is when your emotions get involved – if you’re being led by your emotions, that is when you can make bad decisions.” Sharma’s point is one that Gladwell also touched on in ‘Blink’. An emotional response to a situation, he argues, can blind our instincts. However, with a cool head, Sharma argues, intuition must play an important role in businesses today: “It’s your personal radar. You learn to rely on it.”

Whilst there is compelling evidence that data is a powerful resource for researching facts that directly impact your business, disregarding your instincts based on experience and skills is a mistake. The fact is – and any business coach will agree – it’s best to consider both.

Statistics can be useful, and in some instances absolutely vital in order to make an informed business decision. But don’t detach yourself from the human element. Depending on the type of decision, where relevant, allow your instincts to kick in.

Experience should not be underestimated. Even if the data suggests otherwise, Learn more about the role of instinct when making decisions and discover how Business Coaching can help leaders make better decisions. a strong niggling that something is absolutely right or wrong can be the better option. Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your particular experiences. Situations change, and predictions are not always correct, so when making plans that affect your business, consider the possibilities and have a contingency back up plan.

Most importantly, engage a business coach or business mentor to help you. Your business coach or business mentor can give you an independent appraisal, considering all the information and sharing their experiences in similar instances. A well matched business coach or mentor can also help develop a business leader’s intuition. Going with your gut can allow you to be inquisitive and more open to opportunities. But these skills are not inborn or inherited; they need to be learnt.

Business leaders are ideas people. They are creating a vision for the future of the business, so they need to innovate using their instincts. Instincts allow you to make the most of opportunities that others don’t necessarily see.

How Can a Business Coach Help Develop a Business Leader’s Intuition?

Firstly, an International Business Mentors business coach or mentor has the necessary experience in having developed and used their own intuition in their business lives. They share their successes, mistakes, ideas and business acumen as they are driven by a desire to help those they mentor to succeed.

A well matched business coach or mentor encourages business leaders to follow their interests and to act on their ideas. Business coaching can also support businesses leaders to be committed and to focus and follow through. Instinct allows leaders to anticipate problems and set the rules for the future. It draws on things you have learnt and felt, much of which you may not even be consciously aware of.

An appropriate business coach can help leaders make informed and well balanced decisions, with an open mindedness that permits your ideas to change and develop. They’ll encourage you to think about your business issues before making a decision, and to also use your gut. This forces business leaders to be more instinctive.

Instinct vs. Common Sense

Learn to tune into your physical and emotional response as a pointer to the direction you need to take, and give credit to your initial response to a situation. If something doesn’t ‘feel right’, consider the options and weigh up the pros and cons of going with your gut feeling.

Instincts are vital in our decision-making to help us notice when something might be wrong. Yet in most situations, when we face significant decisions about the business, we need to trust our head more than our gut in order to make the best decisions. A business coach can help in such circumstances, as they can act as a confidential sounding board.

Contact Chris Cartney at International Business Mentors today to consider how a business coach or mentor can help with your business thinking processes, assisting you and your business with a confidential and supportive business coaching relationship.

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