All of you out there who blog know there are some posts that everyone else in the world is going to think are rubbish. Absolute rubbish. (You’ll just have to imagine my British accent there.) Today’s may or may not be one of those for you.
Intuition is a thing.
Hunches are things.
Logic is a thing.
Rational thinking is a thing.
Information is a thing. (Al Gore invented a superhighway for it, you know)
Obviously I’ve over-simplified the above, but the point is that all of these “things” are what we use to make decisions every day, be it as leaders; team members; family members; friends; neighbors; patrons at local eateries like Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard, the Roasterie or Dodge City Distillery; or consumers at online retailers like Amazon or Zappos. Heck, we use those things to determine our philosophical outlook on life itself to some degree, which determines the lens through which we view reality in many ways.
The tricky part with all of those things above is that they’re interrelated and often interdependent, and there’s no universal standard that tells us how much weight we’re to assign to any of those particular things. What if logic seems to tell me one thing, but the numbers don’t appear to bear it out? What if the data points in one direction, but your intuition is pulling you in the other? What if all the experts are saying to do this or that, but you have a hunch that this other thing — different that the this-or-that that the experts have suggested — would be an even better solution?
And there’s the rub.
Because here’s where we arbitrarily start ranking those things, if not overtly, certainly in a de facto sense. You’ve seen it happen a dozen times at least. I know I have. You’re sitting in a meeting and some version of the following conversation takes place.
BizPerson1: So we can clearly see from the previous 312 slides that the data points in a pretty obvious direction. People will notice us more if we wear tin foil hats in our locations.
BizPerson2: Wow. So according to your data, people with tin foil hats on were noticed almost twice as much as people without tin foil hats? Numbers don’t lie, people.
BizPerson3: Um, I hope the numbers and data will pardon me, but my gut tells me that having our teams wear tin foil hats is a terrible idea.
BizPerson2: Were you not paying attention to BizPerson1’s presentation? All the data, all the information — it all indicates that people in tin foil hats get noticed.
BizPerson1: Yeah. Where’s your data, BizPerson3? Hm? Got any actual data to back up your assertion?
BizPerson3: No, I have not done extensive research around how people respond to other people wearing tin foil hats, but I do tend to have a good feel for human “stuff,” and my intuition tells me that the tinfoil hat strategy would make us the laughing-stock of…well…maybe the whole world. I know your data says one thing, but I’m telling you — don’t do it.
BizPerson1: Well, I’m afraid we can’t make business decisions based on how you feel. Numbers don’t lie.
An exaggerated example of course, but its non-exaggerated cousin is played out all over the place every day. Now before you freak out and throw the square root of 417 at me, I’m not at all saying that numbers don’t matter or that data isn’t important. They do and it is. What I’m saying is that people have intuition for a reason. Will they always be right? Nope. Will your numbers always enable you to make the correct business decisions? Nope. But it doesn’t always have to be an either/or thing. They can be used in concert. And sometimes you just have to have the stones to go with your gut.
One of my favorite “coachings” I’ve ever received happened a few months back. I can’t remember what exactly prompted the discussion, but my boss told me not to back off my intuition. He told me use it and go with it because it was a strength of mine.
You see, sometimes I think we unwittingly buy into the lie that everything we need to know is always in the numbers. But if that were true, relationships would be a math equation and emotion would be a Sudoku thingy; there wouldn’t be gutsy risks — just extremely well-calculated ones.
As leaders, we’ve got to do a better job at learning who on our teams just seems to have that “thing” where their gut seems to be right a lot of the time. Their instincts tend to be right, even if it seems unlikely that they would be. Their intuition operates with clarity; for them it’s the equivalent of all your studies and numbers and data.
But that means us too, as leaders, need to have the guts to go with our intuition sometimes instead of hiding behind the numbers. Hiding behind the numbers is the easy way, because even if it goes wrong, it’s easy for us to say that with the information we had it seemed pretty clear that that was what we should have tried blah blah blah.
What’s harder is making a decision because you feel like it’s the one that needs to be made. Your gut tells you it’s the right one. You won’t have the luxury of hiding behind the numbers if you’re wrong, but at least you’re actually thinking and making decisions instead of doing what the numbers tell you to do.