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Listening to Your Inner Voice Makes You a Better Manager

Harvard Business Review

Some of the best advice we have all got — be it while making big personal decisions or making critical business decisions — is the same: Follow your inner voice. Most of us have heeded that counsel, yet if we were asked to list the elements that enable better decision-making, we would cite experience, research, data, even polls — but never our inner voices.

Logic precedes sixth sense because the known outnumber the unknown. When the reverse was true, people counted on extra-sensory cues to lead their lives. As our world enters an age of uncertainty, with economics, politics, and society all undergoing upheavals, the unknowns are beginning to increase in velocity and volume.

I wonder if we should try to re-ignite, particularly at work, the extra-sensory cues that once helped govern our lives. Managers struggle to make the right decisions today as they execute complex projects in short time frames, choosing from a vast number of possibilities, some of which they have never before encountered. No wonder only one in two managerial decisions is estimated to be useful!

Recent data suggests that intuition provides extra sensory artillery that helps integrate thoughts, thereby enabling better decision-making. For instance, Tel Aviv University's Marius Usher found that when people made choices based only on instinct, they made the right call up to 90% of the time. Other researchers have estimated that 80% of successful CEOs have an intuitive decision-making style.

The question isn't whether rational reasoning is better than intuitive decision-making; it's how both can be combined for optimal results. The process of integrating intuition into our work lives starts by asking three questions:

Do you acknowledge your gut feelings? When you look at a situation, the inner voice you hear is your mind's Big Data-based response. Do you heed it? Or do you brush it away? As Carl Jung argued, intuition isn't the opposite of rationality, but instead, a sophisticated way of chunking data or connecting dots subconsciously based on experiences or sixth sense. Keep it aside, ruminate on it, and use it only when data leads you to a dead end.

Do you encourage intuitive thinking? At a sales review, I once saw a territory rep say: "I have a feeling this vertical is about to take off..." His manager immediately cut him off with an embarrassed: "No one wants to hear about your feelings. Where is your Excel file?" However, feelings-based statements can provide a wealth of information that spreadsheets won't, so managers need to be open. They should regularly ask for off the data, off-the-record views, and integrate those inputs into decision-making.

Are you open to the messages that your mind sends out randomly? The unstructured sporadic thoughts that your mind broadcasts can hold useful cues, so you should practice the art of acknowledging them.

In a recent post, Purnendo Ghosh, a professor of science and religion, made the case for intuition eloquently: "When you consider that we human beings have a history extending 80,000 years, and our present form of rationality and intellect may be only about 2,000 years old, we need to recognize that non-rational elements have also guided our development and destiny."

I'm curious. Does anyone disagree?

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