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How to Improve Your Intuitive Thinking


Improve Your Intuitive Thinking

The instinctive genius that enables a CEO to craft the perfect strategy could require an uncanny ability to detect patterns that other people either overlook or mistake for random noise." ~Alden M. Hayashi, “When to Trust Your Gut,” Harvard Business Review, February 2001

Some business experts extol the powers of intuitive thinking. Others caution leaders to beware of faulty reasoning and inherent biases.

Many executives will tell you that decisions should be based solely on a thorough analysis of data. But a new breed aims to achieve breakthroughs by harnessing the power of intuition.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, leaders must make complex decisions quickly, even when faced with uncertainty. Data and numbers rarely provide a complete picture. Making sound decisions in a chaotic climate requires us to strengthen our intuitive thinking. Refining our intuition ensures more accurate and innovative insights.

Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have time for a slow process of hearings and review. Decisions often cannot be tabled. We have to make them quickly by:

1.  Processing the best available information

2.  Inferring from it

3.  Using intuition to act

Over the years, various management studies have found that executives routinely rely on their intuition to solve complex problems when logical methods (such as cost-benefit analyses) simply won’t do. The higher you climb within an organization, the greater your need for intuition, notes Hayashi, a senior editor at the MIT Sloan Management Review, in his aforementioned Harvard Business Review article.

Honing your intuition is no longer optional. Most leaders recognize this sobering reality. They know that intuition’s fallibility must be balanced with appropriate analysis. We must nonetheless improve the quality of our intuition if we wish to succeed.

Let’s start with a clear definition of intuition, analyze how it works and outline steps for improving your intuitive skills.

Disrobing Intuition

“The real challenge is not whether to trust intuition, but how to strengthen it to make it more trustworthy.” ~ Gary Klein, PhD, The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions at Work (Crown Business, 2004)

While some enjoy promoting its seemingly magical qualities, intuition isn’t some mysterious gift or touchy-feely psychic ability.  There’s science behind it, which means you can learn how to leverage your intuition for optimum results. We need to treat intuition as a strength that can be acquired and expanded by building—and making better use of—a rich experience base.

Intuition improves as we learn to process and fully understand the situations we face. The more experiences we have, the stronger our intuition becomes. Repetition (practice) sets the stage for competency. Intuitive decision-making improves when we acquire more patterns, recognize how they play out and develop a larger repertoire of strategies.

You cannot improve intuition with experience alone. You must continually challenge yourself to make tough appraisals and learn from the consequences. Intuitive leaders rely on keen observation, pattern recognition and mental models.

Pattern Recognition

Repeated experiences are unconsciously linked to form patterns. A pattern is a set of connected cues. When you spot a few of the cues, you can expect to find others.

As we gain experience at work, we assemble a catalog of recognizable patterns. Over time, it becomes easier to match a situation with a previous pattern. Learning to detect patterns may prove challenging, but your practice will eventually pay off.

Pattern recognition explains how leaders can make effective decisions without conducting a deliberate analysis. They’ve learned which cues are relevant. Truly inspired decisions require a more sophisticated mechanism: cross-indexing. The ability to see similar patterns in disparate fields elevates your intuitive skills.

Action Responses

Patterns include routines for responding, known as “action scripts.” If we see a situation as typical, then we can recognize the typical action to take. We develop hunches about what’s really going on and how we should respond.

Using our intuition, we translate our experiences into judgments and action responses. When intuitive leaders see familiar patterns, their response is usually obvious.

Pattern recognition occurs instantaneously, without conscious thought. We make intuitive judgments so quickly that they seem mysterious. Professor Klein’s diagram demonstrates the science behind these judgments.

Situations generate recognizable cues, and patterns trigger typical action responses that, in turn, affect the situation.

The Role of Analysis

Analysis has a proper role as a supporting tool for making intuitive decisions. Not all situations and experiences are the same, obviously. The extent to which we apply previous action scripts or devise new ones depends on our ability to analyze projected consequences.

Professor Klein recommends using “pre-mortems”: discussions that imagine scenarios with various applied actions and consequences. Intuition helps us decide how to react, and analysis ensures our intuition won’t mislead us.

Know—and Check—Yourself

Self-checking and feedback are crucial for sound intuitive decisions, so some organizations have made these processes part of the culture in their executive suites. Intuitive thinkers admit their instincts are often plain wrong. They understand that human nature can cloud decision-making. For example:

·   We will often take unnecessary risks to recover a loss (the classic gambler’s syndrome).

·   We tend to see patterns where none exist—a phenomenon that statisticians call “over-fitting the data.”

·   We tend to be revisionists. We frequently remember when we didn’t trust our gut and should have, while conveniently forgetting when we were fortunate to have ignored our instincts.

·   We set up a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we hire or promote someone, for instance, we consciously or subconsciously expend extra effort to ensure the person’s success, obscuring whether our choice was actually a good one.

Decisions are fluid, and leaders know when to change them. We enjoy the greatest power of intuitive decision-making (coupled with continual feedback) when we hone the process into an effective management style for quick action.

Intuitive People

“People who believe in trusting their intuition tend to be more successful in life. Oprah Winfrey, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson are all well-known gut trusters.”~ Lynn A. Robinson, MEd, Listen: Trusting Your Inner Voice in Times of Crisis (Globe Pequot Press, 2009)

Certain characteristics define executives who outperform their peers in intuitive decision-making.

·   They’re open to feelings and impulses.

·    They seek continual learning experiences and are unafraid of asking questions.

·   They’re inquisitive and keenly observant.

·   They have a good sense of what will happen next.

·   They can articulate how a current situation has developed.

·   They’re aware of their fallibility and are open to alternative interpretations.

·   They’re confident when dealing with time pressures and uncertainties.

·   They anticipate problems in time to avoid or defuse them.

·   They aren’t put off by unexpected events; they use them to find new solutions.

·   They understand their routines and are aware of system limitations and traps.

·   They’re self-aware and acknowledge potential biases.

10 Tips for Improving Intuitive Thinking

“Developing your intuitive sense is similar to learning any new skill—the more you practice, the more proficient you will become. Learn to trust your decision-making ability by paying close attention to what your intuition is telling you.” ~ Romanus Wolter, “Trusting your gut instincts,” Entrepreneur, November 2005

None of us starts a career with the expertise we need. We learn as we go. Some of us broaden our skills better than others because we pay attention, notice what works and what doesn’t, and build a repertoire of experiences (both good and bad).

Professor Klein offers 10 critical tips for growing your intuitive abilities:

1.  Be the best. There’s no guarantee you’ll be an intuitive savant, but this strategy is backed up by empirical evidence. Pay attention to your first impulses when faced with a tough call.

2.  Use analysis to support your intuition. Imagine which actions your impulse suggests taking; then anticipate what could conceivably go wrong.

3.  Put more energy into understanding the situation than into deliberating over what to do.

4.  Don’t confuse desire with intuition. Intensely wanting something to happen is not a reason to ignore commonsense intuition.

5.  Override your intuition when it misleads you.  Intuition is fallible. Your mind excels at holding onto inaccurate beliefs and faulty biases. Try forming an alternate story to get unstuck from a stubborn mindset.

6.  Think ahead. Intuition helps us create expectations, connect the dots, flag inconsistencies and warn us of potential problems. A “pre-mortem” discussion helps teams run through a strategy to see how it will play out. In short, learn to foresee problems.

7.  Uncertainty adds excitement to decision-making. Intuition helps manage this emotion.

8.  Use the right decision-making strategy. There’s a time to rely on intuition and a time to analyze all of the factors that go into a decision. If the issues are complicated and no one has good intuitions about the situation, analysis makes more sense.

9.  Consult the experts. If you’re in unfamiliar territory, learn to trust the intuitions of experts with experience. Experts will see cues you won't notice and will introduce options you may never envision.

10.  Stay alert for intuition barriers. Red flags should go up when everyone is expected to follow specific systems and procedures, regardless of the situation at hand. Understand when to question the data, and find out how parameters are acquired. You should clarify each step of your organization’s standard operating procedures to understand their purpose. Computers (or computer-like people) are no substitute for human experience or astute pattern recognition.

Practice and feedback are the secrets to developing skilled intuition. Work on noticing situations, recognizing patterns and discerning best possible actions. You’ll eventually enjoy the rewards of sound intuitive-thinking skills.

If you struggle with this aspect of leadership, consider seeking help from a trusted mentor or executive coach.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put strengths-based leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to build a company culture built on trust? Transformational leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a transformational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders create a culture where respect and trust flourish.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture strengths-based conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert

I coach leaders to cultivate clarity, creativity, focus, trust, and full engagement in a purpose-driven culture.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders. 

Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded rare "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

Are you an executive leader who wants to be more effective at work and get better results?

Did you know that research has demonstrated, that the most effective leaders model high emotional intelligence, and that EQ can be learned? It takes self-awareness, empathy, and compassion to become a more emotionally intelligent leader. 

Emotionally intelligent and mindful leaders inspire people to become fully engaged with the vision and mission of their company.  Mindful leadership starts from within.

I am a consulting psychologist and executive coach. I believe coaching is a collaborative process of providing people with the resources and opportunities they need to self manage, develop change resiliency and become more effective. Utilizing instrumented assessments - clients set clear goals, make optimal use of their strengths, and take action to create desired changes aligned with personal values.

I have been chosen as an expert to appear on radio and TV, MSNBC, CBS Health Watch and in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, Forbes and Fast Company.

Over the past thirty-five years, I have coached hundreds of leaders to improve their leadership effectiveness.

After only 6 months, one executive coaching client reported greater productivity, more stress resiliency, and helping her company improve revenues by 20%. While this may depend on many factors most of my clients report similar satisfaction in their EQ leadership competence leading to better business results.

You can choose to work with a highly seasoned executive coach to help facilitate your leadership development and executive presence awakening what’s possible. 

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