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Go with Your Gut

“Go with Your Gut”

Intuition goes mainstream as a decision-making tool.

Ever had a hunch?

You know, that unexplainable feeling that your newest product will become a consumer favorite despite discouraging market reports. Or maybe you knew in your gut that you shouldn’t have hired that manager — the one with the sparkling resume and charming personality who quit after six months and a signing bonus. That hunch is your intuition kicking in.

The most successful entrepreneurs and leaders have long relied on their intuition to gain a competitive edge. And now the rest of the world is catching on.

Executives from Fortune 500 companies to sole proprietorships are honing their intuitive skills and using them to make smarter business decisions, and corporations are spending thousands of dollars on intuitive staff training. Books, magazines and Web sites touting intuitive approaches to business are flooding the marketplace, and business gurus such as Guy Kawasaki from Garage.com list "follow your gut" as one of the top 10 elements of success.

Defining intuition

Gary Klein, a scientist and business owner, has studied how people under intense pressure, such as doctors, firefighters and military personnel, use intuition in making decisions. He defines it as judgment grounded in experience. Intuition is a matter of skillful perception — learning to see clues and patterns that give you the answers you need. It is a tool, a sixth sense that gathers information you would otherwise miss and processes it through your physical senses, thoughts and memories.

The good news: Everyone is intuitive, and that intuition is working all the time. The bad news: People usually aren’t paying attention or they override their intuitive sense with logic.

Tuning in

To use your intuitive insights as a decision-making tool, slow down and become aware of what your body is telling you.

But slowing down is the hardest lesson to learn, agree entrepreneurs and intuition coaches. Bombarded with data, business owners are in the habit of turning to computers, televisions and consultants for decision-making advice.

Intuitive decision-making, or skillful perception, is about taking stock of the internal expert — you. Don’t disregard other information, but use it in conjunction with your intuitive perceptions. That means becoming aware.

Get quiet. Relax. Turn off the phone. Be still. Pay attention to your breathing and your body. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Many entrepreneurs pause several times for a few minutes throughout the day, just to get a sense of what they need to know for the task ahead.

Set the intention. What decision or problem are you facing? Perhaps you’re thinking about launching a new product. Ask your intuition for the knowledge you need to make the best choice for your company, and then move on.

Be aware. Intuitive information comes in the form of sounds, feelings, visions or a combination of clues. After posing a question to your intuition, contemplate the sensations you feel. For example, if you’re in the middle of the hiring process, ask yourself: Is this the right person to lead this team? Then relax and pay attention. Do you get a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach or do you feel light and calm? Do you get a vision of dollar signs growing in size or a broken-down building?

Keep track of the sensations that you experience. Quickly jot down notes or speak into a tape recorder to keep those impressions flowing.

Interpret the clues. Once you’ve uncovered the intuitive images and sensations, analyze their meaning and significance. Maybe growing dollar signs means the new hire will contribute to the company’s growth and prosperity, while the dilapidated house signifies a virtual money pit with little return on your investment. Look for repeating patterns. Do you get an image of a flying bird before making a decision that causes profits to soar?

Trust your gut. You may think you want something, only to get opposite signals from your intuition. Though you may not know immediately why something doesn’t feel or look right, the reasons will become clear in the future. Stay true to your mission and vision statements.

Practice. Run different scenarios in your head. Perhaps it’s hiring a specific person or launching a new product. Think of a business deal that’s already in the works and then see which intuitive clues appear. Make a note of them, and identify which ones prove accurate. Over time, your interpretations will become clearer and more accurate. Like any other business process, experience strengthens your sense of perception.

Kathy Long Holland, a Portland, Ore.-based business consultant with ECO-D/OMBI, began paying attention to her intuition after realizing that ignoring her gut led to poor decisions. Now she credits intuition with helping her stay true to her business goals, saving money and reducing stress. It’s also helped her attract clients who are in alignment with her goals. Last fall that meant turning down a project worth more than $50,000. It looked good on paper, but it didn’t feel right, Long Holland says. Later, more information proved her instincts were correct.

The perception payoff

Decision-making. It’s impossible to process all the decision-making data you get, so you need to draw on your senses. Skillful perception provides the information you need to make faster, more accurate decisions.

Action item: Start small. Is there someone you should contact for networking purposes? Think of this person and ask yourself: Is now a good time to contact this person? In what ways can you help this person and, in turn, benefit your business? Record and interpret your perceptions. Now contact this person, and see if your interpretations prove accurate.

Getting there first. Trade magazines and informational service companies are filled with market projections and trend reports to help you respond to emerging consumer demand. But if you can identify market trends before they’re trendy, you’ve got an edge.

Similarly, your instincts can also lead you away from costly mistakes. Conrad Hilton credited his intuition when he made a bid on his first building. Yet that first number "didn’t feel right" so Hilton changed it — against expert advice — and was awarded the property that led to the development of his hotel empire.

Action item: Make a list of the projects currently planned or underway for your company. As you look at each item, take note of your perceptions. Is there a particular one that leaves you with a feeling of excitement? Go with your gut and start evaluating other data pertaining to those projects. Your intuition may be telling you it’s the right time to pursue those goals.

Staff and client development. The most enjoyable and successful relationships develop when your staff and clients are in alignment with your business goals.

Action item: Ask these questions: What does your staff need to feel comfortable and work efficiently? What type of clients do you want to work with? What qualities do they have that provide for a successful relationship? Evaluate your perceptions, and then aim to attract only the right people and clients to your team. If you are able to perceive what people need or want — even if they haven’t articulated it — they are more likely to be in sync with your goals and objectives. Understanding the needs and motivations of others also gives you an edge in negotiation.

Using internal perceptions and experience to aid in decision-making is nothing new. But now people are accepting intuition as a bona-fide business tool instead of some mystical trick.

Writer: Polly Campbell