Have you ever sensed something is amiss, yet couldn't quite put your finger on it? What did you do?
We've all had experiences where something didn't seem right, although we couldn't figure out why we felt this way or what triggered the feeling. To me, this is intuition. But, before I share some thoughts on intuition, I’d like to set the stage and explain two important concepts.
Our Two Minds
When we're awake, our conscious mind is typically in charge and tasked with many different activities – for example, eating, driving, riding, walking, working, surfing the Internet, talking, playing, and making decisions. All of these activities require some level of critical thinking to evaluate sensory inputs. Critical thinking looks for patterns and shortcuts – IF you see A and B, THEN do C. Critical thinking also evaluates evidence and makes conclusions – Are D and E sufficient to allow me to conclude they caused F?
When we're asleep, the conscious mind rests – and the subconscious mind takes over, attempting to make connections between inputs that didn't match patterns or didn't yield conclusions. The subconscious mind takes over where the critical thinking of the conscious mind fell short – in other words, its strength is creative thinking.
What, Exactly, Is Intuition?
Almost by definition, intuition is hard to explain, because it operates outside of the way we normally interpret experiences. I find it helpful to think of intuition this way ...
Intuition is our subconscious mind bumping into our conscious mind.
Mind you, this is not a hard bump – rather, it's soft and gradual.
Here's an analogy. Let's use a balloon to represent the subconscious mind, and a paper box for the conscious mind. Imagine the balloon slowly inflating inside the box. The air inflating the balloon represents the gradual accumulation of sensory input which has been ignored (deliberately or not) by the conscious mind. The really obvious sensations are used in the more shallow, faster processing that makes everyday tasks possible.
Is there some sensation that seems inconsistent with experience? The conscious mind looks for patterns and consistency, so it ignores this sensation. The non-obvious sensations, however, have still been captured and are pumped into the subconscious mind for deeper, slower processing.
At some point, the subconscious mind has accumulated enough sensations and done enough processing that things begin to make sense. In our analogy, this is when the balloon is inflated sufficiently to barely touch all 6 walls of the box.
This first touch is when your conscious mind first begins to perceive the output of the subconscious mind. As more non-obvious inputs are gathered, the balloon inflates further until the conscious mind eventually gets all it is going to get from the subconscious mind. When this happens, it's typically a "Eureka!" moment – the fog has burned away and the insight can now be seen.
An Insight Is Not the Same as An Idea
An insight is more a statement of direction – "Head west" – than a set of directions – "Turn right on Green Valley Road, go 0.3 miles, then bear left on ... " As such, an insight needs further investigation to become a useful idea.
In a personal context, a person goes about daily tasks, using the conscious mind's critical thinking to handle the obvious sensations, while handing off the non-obvious sensations to the subconscious mind's creative thinking. At some point, an insight – perhaps like one of the following – appears.
It seems like …
- My bank account is lower than I thought.
- My friend and I haven’t talked in ages.
- I don’t have as much free time as I used to.
In a business context, a manager or executive might recognize a feeling – an insight – like:
It seems …
- My revenue isn’t what it could be.
- My operating costs are out of line.
- My workers could be more productive.
- My staff is stretched too thin.
- My best customers are silent.
- My quality is off.
- My margins are too low.
- My inventory is too high.
- There’s too much downtime.
- I need a third person viewpoint of the business.
Although these insights about business problems are good, they're not yet sufficient, because they don’t suggest an actionable idea.
Step 1 – Investigate – No or Yes?
Before you can turn an insight into an idea, you have to choose whether or not to flesh out the insight by spending time and effort to investigate it. Will you do this?
- No – I'm going to ignore my insight.
- Yes – I'm going to work on it for a while.
Step 2 – Continue – No or Yes?
At some point while you're gathering information – both quantitative and qualitative – and trying to shape your insight into an idea, the going gets tough and you hit a roadblock. Will you continue?
- No – I'm going to ignore my problem, at least for now, knowing I may have to deal with it in the future.
- Yes – I'm going to work on this a while longer.
An Actionable Idea!
By this time, you've found a way to get around your roadblock – perhaps by working with Todd Herman Associates (THA) – and finished forming your idea into one that's actionable. It's been my experience that, once an idea has been articulated, an obvious solution usually presents itself.
- My sales reps are not following our guidelines for margin by type of account – we need to stop that.
- I can build a custom product that includes all the features I need and leverage my proprietary advantage.
- We have 5 people rekeying information all day, and a properly designed system should be able to do this routine grunt work.
- Streamlining my processes and then building them into a software system will allow me to finally scale up my business.
- With a little more data analysis and system setup, we could accurately plan our daily production and eliminate the guesswork.
- The expenses outpacing my revenue growth need to be cut – now.
Step 3 – Implement – Yes!
If you've made it this far in the process, it's virtually guaranteed you CAN implement your actionable idea. Will you actually do this?
- Yes, And ... – I've decided to defer implementation until the next quarter, because my staff will have more bandwidth then.
- Yes – I'm going to implement it now, because my staff and I see the value – in terms of cost, cycle time, and quality – of the ongoing results and we are willing to put in the extra time now to achieve these benefits, sooner rather than later.
The Best Ones ...
I’ve found the best executives and managers trust their intuition, yet don't stop there. They will investigate the insight, continue on despite perceived roadblocks, develop an actionable idea, and then implement it. These folks are the "A" players.
What about the "B" or "C" players? Odds are, they're "B" or "C" players for a reason – they answer "No" to either Step 1 ("C" players) or Step 2 ("B" players), and never get to Step 3. That's too bad, because Step 3 is the most fun and enjoyable of them all, and makes the implementation work feel like play.
Your Intuition Yields An Insight – And Then What?
If you've been in the business world any length of time, you've likely had your intuition surface in a "Eureka!" moment and gotten an initial insight on your problem. The question is – what did you do with that? Hopefully, you were able to take it all the way to implementation and solved your problem. If not, could we help you? There's only one way to find out – trust your intuition and contact me.
Todd L. Herman