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How important is gut feel at work?

October 4, 2020
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Using intuition in the work place.

Have you ever felt uneasy about doing something, because something “feels doesn’t feel right”?  This is your gut instinct giving you a warning of danger.  Your gut instinct can be a valuable tool at work, as well as in your private life.

So what is gut feel?

Gut feel, intuition, or instinct, is your physical reaction to the world outside of you, and your near light-speed internal processing of that information against your own life experiences and beliefs.  There is communication between our brain and our gut.   An example of when “gut feeling” occurs is often when we meet somebody for the first time.   Something may not seem right about them, but perhaps we can’t pinpoint exactly what it is.  This can occur when what they say or do doesn’t fit with what their body language is telling your subconscious.  Often we make up our mind about someone in those first instances of meeting them.  If we perceive some sort of deception is going on or if something just feels “off”, we can have a negative association about that person from that moment on.


Is there a difference between emotion and intuition?

Intuition is not emotion.  It’s a process that gives rise to the gut feeling, that in turn can trigger an emotional reaction.  However, intuition does more than produce feelings, it gives knowledge and insight about certain topics.

Everyone can be intuitive but few have enough trust in their intuition.  We demand evidence based on analysis even though the knowledge so obtained is limited.  Intuition and foresight are closely related.  Anyone who has ever had a sudden insight can attest to this.  Everything seems to connect at such times.  Such occasions are called eureka moments.


The ‘Eureka moment’

Have you ever been burdened with some problem, which may be a trivial, or it could be a problem of momentous importance to us that we can’t think of anything else.  All of a sudden the solution is obvious.  Often this even occurs when we relax and let our minds drift on to other things.  This can even occur at night as we are drifting off to sleep.  Such an occurrence is called the eureka or aha moment.  The eureka moment is the sudden solving of a problem.  It’s a part of decision-making and, it often results from using apparent intuition.

As we have said, intuition is using our instincts instead of or perhaps with conscious and sub-conscious analysis.  It is the ‘inner voice’ and guides us throughout our lives.  It comes from these gut-feelings.


Gut instinct and complexity decisions

When it comes to decision making, there are two approaches.  The analytical one, dependent on research and analysis of probable and possible outcomes.  And the gut instinct approach.

Many of us tend to use the latter approach in emotional matters, but what about business?  In fact, several scientific studies show we should pay close attention to “the inner voice”.  When combined with some analysis of evidence, these studies show better decisions are made.

This research is based on that of Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman[1], [2], which showed that humans frequently use intuition, instead of information and analysis.  Even Albert Einstein once said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition.”


Where do intuition and sudden insights come from?

While many believe in divine inspiration from a higher power, reality is much closer to earth.  Our brains are quite impressive creations.   They are able to process vast amounts of information from both external and internal sources simultaneously, when we allow them to.   This often feels like we are acquiring knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning.   But we are in fact accessing direct and unconscious knowledge; unconscious cognition; inner sensing; inner insight to unconscious pattern-recognition; resulting in the ability to understand something instinctively, without any need for conscious reasoning[3].


Some historic examples

Adolf Hitler started the Second World War, which led to the death of countless millions of people and at its end found Germany devastated and defeated.  However, early on in the war Germany was winning and largely victorious.  Hitler strongly believed in his instinct and was very confident of it. He was convinced it came from God.  He made the declaration,” I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.”  Luckily for us, he over reached and became blind to any other reason or fact, and started to make more and more irrational decisions, that ended up costing him the war.

Another example from that same period comes from Winston Churchill, leader of the United Kingdom at the time.  According to his book, The Gathering Storm, just after he had become Prime Minister in 1940 he said, “I felt I was walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.”[4]


What of intuition in business?

Looking at a commercial example, there is the case of Henry Ford[5] in 1914.  He was faced with declining demand for his cars.  The worker turnover in his factories was high, and increasing.  He thought long and hard about these dilemmas.

The solution, in a moment of extraordinary insight, led him to double the wages of his employees.  The effect was that, within a year, the turnover of staff had fallen sharply while productivity had greatly increased.  So the labour cost of manufacturing actually reduced.   The demand for Ford cars grew as Ford’s workers could also now afford to buy them.

I find going with my gut instinct at work is key when interviewing candidates for a new role.  I’ve made the best call when I go with my gut in this area.  Twice recently I’ve hired people for roles who weren’t the most qualified candidates, but they had what I “felt”, the best attitude and team fit.  On another occasion an interview panel member convinced me to hire someone I had my doubts about, and so I went against my intuition.   It was an abysmal failure for both the candidate and the team, and they left within a year.

Intuition vs factual analysis

Despite the strong evidence for trusting your intuition, there is an equal place for good advice and sound analysis when making both life and business decisions.   Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that their gut instinct alone is always right should be prepared for a few nasty setbacks.  Listening to good advice and competent analysis is absolutely essential to weigh up the facts.  If your gut is still literally screaming the contrary to you, then I wouldn’t discount it.




[1] Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Penguin UK.

[2]Gilovich, T., Griffin, D., & Kahneman, D. (2002). Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Wikipedia definition of intuition.

[4] Winston Churchill. (1985). The gathering storm. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[5] Burgan, M., & HQ, W. (2014). Who was Henry Ford? Penguin.