The ClientWise Blog

Trusting Your Gut

Posted by Chris Holman on Apr 22, 2010 12:33:00 PM

A great example of the power of intuition is the story of Juan Manuel Fangio, an Argentinean race car driver. Fangio dominated Formula One racing in the first decade of the sport, in the 1940’s and 50’s. In the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, as he exited the tunnel on the second lap, Fangio braked (inexplicably) as opposed to the normal behavior of maintaining speed. As a result, he avoided a horrendous accident, which was beyond his vision around the bend…and subsequently went on to win the race.

It wasn’t ESP that triggered his immediate reaction. Fangio had picked up a remarkable detail in his peripheral vision. Normally, the spectators in the stands have their faces turned towards the drivers as they exit the tunnel (pale color). At this particular moment, the spectators were looking up the track towards the scene of the accident and had the back of their heads facing Fangio (dark color). This subtle change in color registered instantaneously in Fangio’s non-conscious mind, and caused him to brake, thus avoiding the wreckage, and led to his winning the race.

“In the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within 30 seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about a business proposal within 30 seconds based on whether it excites me.”…Richard Branson

Intuition Facts

  • Dutch researchers have recently discovered that with many complicated decisions, such as buying a house, the better the outcome if one simply doesn’t dwell on it.
  • In a survey of managers and executives, 90% said they combined intuition with rational analysis when making decisions.
  • In another survey, the use of intuitive judgment tends to correlate to job level, i.e. C-level executives are most likely to use intuition, and lower-level managers are least likely.
  • There are no consistent research findings that identify “female intuition”. However, some social scientists postulate that females have a more acute sense of social intuition (the ability to read peoples’ motives and intentions) than males do.

What is Intuition?
Intuitions are judgments imbued with feelings that arise rapidly and non-consciously on the basis of recognizing a pattern of clues in the environment. This is in contrast to instincts (biological and reflexive, i.e. a knee-jerk reaction) or ‘eureka!’ moments (sudden insights that explain the answer to a problem that has been pondered for some time).

This definition of intuition helps us to understand the Juan Fangio anecdote. He was able to recognize the pattern of clues in his environment (the turned heads of the spectators) based upon his previous experiences, which caused him to react instantaneously.

The Power of the Non-Conscious Mind
Has this ever happened to you? You have been struggling with a perplexing issue for hours, or maybe even days… and you just can’t make a decision, find a solution to a problem, or remember something you’ve forgotten. So, you decide to take a break. Perhaps you turn to something else, walk away, go for a run, or decide to simply “sleep on it”. As you focus on these other activities, your mind is “freed” up. Then, Eureka! You suddenly make a decision, find that solution or remember what you had forgotten.

Here’s what’s happening. During sleep, the linear mind is turned off. It’s pure intuition. During running, walking, intense exercise, or yoga…where one is paying attention to the physical, the unconscious mind is freed up, letting the quieter, non-conscious process integrate the various sources of data that we have gathered. In other words, the brain doesn’t stop when we’re not conscious; it only processes information in a different manner.

The Limits of Intuition
As an interesting counterweight to this discussion, I would refer one to an excellent book, authored by Michael Maubossin, entitled, “Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition.” Maubossin, who is the chief investment strategist for Legg Mason Capital Management argues convincingly that intuition only works well in “stable environments where conditions remain largely unchanged, where feedback is clear, and where cause-and-effect relationships are linear.” He points to the ideas of psychologist and Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman who describes two systems of decision-making. The first is experiential, i.e. it’s fast, automatic and difficult to control. The second is analytical, i.e. it’s slower, serial, and takes effort. The trick is recognizing which is which.

Developing Intuition
Eugene Sadler-Smith, the author of “The Intuitive Mind” and “Inside Intuition” believes that one’s intuition can be honed and developed. He offers the following suggestions for those interested in accomplishing this:

  • Open up the ‘closet’, i.e. be accepting of your intuitions,
  • Track when/where your intuitions tend to be accurate. Get a feel of your ‘batting average’ for when you are right…and wrong,
  • Don’t be literal all of the time. Use metaphor and imagery to help visualize potential future scenarios,
  • Play devil’s advocate to test out your intuitive judgments,
  • Create the inner state that will give your intuitive mind the freedom to roam,
  • Capture your intuitions before they are censored by your rational analysis.

Your intuition is a muscle. It gets stronger by repetition and practice. In the words of Michael Horowitz, president of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the power of the unconscious mind is underrated and underused by many.

Coaching Question: Are you currently using intuition to make decisions about your practice, your colleagues, or your clients? For financial advisors and others who work with people for their profession, how can you use intuition to your advantage?

Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out a solution to a problem, go for a walk, do some exercise, focus on something else, or sleep on it. When trying to make a decision about a client, just trust your gut instinct. Chances are, you’ll probably be right…plus, you can save valuable time in the process.

On a Personal Note
One year ago, I was recovering from cancer surgery.. During my recovery, I noticed a remarkable thing. I observed that my powers of intuition had increased quite markedly. I'm certainly not an expert in this area, but here's what I think may have happened.

In the 6-9 months before and after my surgery my days were consumed with a rather intense investigation into my medical welfare and the desired course of treatment. During this urgent focus, I was filled with a certain amount of self-reflection and analysis. Post-surgery, I believe that this heightened sense of self-awareness morphed into something much greater, i.e. an increased sense of awareness and sensitivity towards others. Moreover, my enhanced intuitive skills seemed to feed on themselves...the more that I used them, the more accurate I became. It was all quite remarkable. This may give some truth to Mr. Sadler-Smith’s theory that intuition is a muscle and gets stronger with repetition.

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Topics: Intuition