When and where our intuition can help us

In my last newsletter on decision-making in a complex world, I talked about intuition being a good guide in complex, unclear decision-making contexts.

But what is intuition anyway? When is it a good guide, and when can it lead us astray?

Our intuition is fed by our experiences and the emotions associated with them. Intuition is always there when we make decisions – in various degrees of consciousness. It is a good guide in contexts we are familiar with. But when we enter new environments, intuition can also lead us astray, namely when the experiences we have made are not of relevance within the new environment.

Here is an example from my own experience: Most of my clients are from the world of business and come from a wide range of industries. What they have in common is that they are “for-profit” organizations. When I was engaged by a local authority for the first time and was asked to conduct a workshop for a group of social workers, my intuition led me astray. In hindsight, of course, I realize that my experiences and the emotions associated with them did not match the environment of the social workers, as such environment was new to me. The decisions I had made in the preparation phase of the workshop were far from spot on. This became apparent as I confused the participants with my ‘messages’ and the statements of the participants confused me. In the end, we all left feeling quite unsettled.

In this particular example, I made it too easy for myself by relying too heavily on my intuition (tacit knowledge) without realizing that this tacit knowledge could not be so easily transferred to the new context.

In most cases, however, our intuition can be a good guide, and Gerhard Roth from the University of Bremen even says that all decisions are ultimately emotional decisions. Understandably, I, as an engineer, find this hard to accept if this turns out to be true. After all, when it comes to making important decisions, I normally go through all the data and facts carefully in order to make the best cognitive decision for my goals.

Of course, I don't want to recommend anyone to completely do without logical thinking, which takes place in the brain stem. But at the same time, I would like to encourage you to consider the advantages of intuition and recognize that our subconscious (i.e. our limbic system – the place where our intuition resides) is involved in every decision anyway. 

And that’s a good thing, because our intuition is

  • “knowledge based on experience and acquired through sensory contact with the subject” (Eric Berne)
  • “sudden and certain” (Ruth Cohn)
  • “suspecting and guessing about the whence and the whither” (Carl Gustav Jung)
  • “inspiration, sudden glimpses of realization” (Duden)

Perhaps everyone has experienced this at some point, when suddenly an inner voice ends a difficult decision that you have been carrying around with you for a long time and then suddenly, you have a clear indication. Or an inner image emerges, ultimately providing the impetus for a decision. Physical reactions such as tension, energy or relaxation can also indicate intuition. Each person may have a tendency as to how intuition most frequently manifests itself in them.

Ignoring intuition would mean ignoring a source of knowledge. And who wants to ignore a source of knowledge? Especially in complex situations, when it is not easy at all to assess or grasp the situation, our intuition is perhaps the only source of knowledge we have, or at least a very important one. Intuition can also have a creative component and, in this regard, can lead to ideas in the form of flashes of inspiration, for example. These also come from the subconscious, because they do not appear when you are thinking intensively, but while you are doing something completely different.

Intuition is therefore fed by past knowledge that is stored in the subconscious and can be retrieved in certain situations. Being able to retrieve or access subconscious knowledge is a matter of practice. Each and everyone of us has intuition, but the ability to listen to it and to perceive it varies greatly. In my opinion, anyone who does not have good access to their intuition should practice it.

For example through: 

  • Reflection: Taking time to reflect on past decisions and the role of intuition in these decisions can be helpful in learning how and when to trust it.
  • Positive attitude towards intuition: Recognizing intuition as something positive can be the first step towards becoming more aware of your intuition. 
  • Listen to your gut feeling: When you regular practice listening to your gut, you can become more aware of your intuition and build trust in it.
  • Linking reason and intuition: Instead of wanting to strictly separate the two, you should accept that the subconscious and perception always feed into every supposedly logical decision.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: This can help strengthen the connection to our inner self and allow the voice of our intuition to become louder.

I would like to conclude with the following quote: “The only real valuable thing is intuition.” Albert Einstein

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every three weeks. For subscription click here

Further reading:

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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