By David Wimer, author of “Insight: Business Advice in an Age of Complexity“
When it comes to making key decisions at critical crossroads in family business, owners know how agonizing it can be to analyze, analyze, analyze, the implications. And if there is a business transition requiring change, successful family business owners know that analyzing the facts and figures only takes them so far. While data helps, at the end of the day it’s gut feel that many successful leaders rely on to guide them. As a matter of fact, some of the greatest innovations in products and services were made from intuition alone.
Intuition or “sixth sense” is not a rare occurrence in our daily lives. We use it all the time, but don’t call it that. For example, most of us can easily catch a ball that is thrown to us, even if it is thrown in a high arc. We don’t do it consciously. We just rely on our experience and kind of “know” where the ball will be coming down. If we try to think about it, it doesn’t work. The same process happens with our spouse or a friend. We can often tell in a few seconds what their mood is without being able to actually describe how we know that.
The point is that what we experience as intuition is the unconscious mind letting us know what is going on. But we don’t “think it,” we “feel it.” We just know. And that knowingness is based on experience and practice, not on some mystical capacity. It’s as if the collective unconscious of learning is brought to bear when we need it most. That is, unless we resist by thinking.
The problem comes from the tendency of our culture to stress the ability to explain everything we do, like we are providing expert witness testimony. Parents, teachers, bosses, children, and partners often demand to know why we did or said or chose or thought something. We learn that the best (i.e., safest) choices are those that can be explained and the more critical the choices, the better the explanation has to be. We call this being “rational.”
Therefore, when a family business or owner is in crisis, there is a natural tendency to focus on choices that are rational or explainable rather than on the choices that just feel right. In other words, we allow the smaller, conscious part of our brain to over-ride the much larger, and creative, unconscious parts of our brain.
When diagnosing a situation I use both my fact-finding and intuition to formulate a potential plan of action with options. Without both, I believe it is difficult to find solutions to complex business problems. Here are a few of my methods for drawing upon the power of intuition:
1. Take time for reflection and contemplation.
Don’t just make a quick decision, so you don’t have to think about the painful problem anymore. It is not always necessary to make a quick decision just because someone else is demanding that you do so. Take some time to reflect. Sleep on it and become conscious of how you feel. Trust your own wisdom and experience, the insight will come.
2. Become aware of how powerful and effective your intuition is.
Start keeping track of the decisions that you make based on your personal judgment versus those that you make based on data. You will most likely be pleasantly surprised by how effective your judgment (i.e., intuition) is.
3. Know thyself and be a student of behavior: yours and others.
I liken it to being an observer facing a tornado rather than being in the eye of the tornado with debris flying around. The observer’s perspective is much different and emotionally detached. With that cow that just landed on your front porch, you may have a different perspective and emotional response altogether.
4. Source intuition through the practice of being alone and quiet.
Take some deep breaths in stressful situations without reacting to feelings of fleeing or fighting. Practice being intuitive; just like you would practice a golf swing. Notice what your intuition is telling you about a situation and then test that intuition with more detailed facts.
Many of my business owner clients are struggling with a financial crisis or a business transition such as a sale of a company. These situations can be very complex. I have a lot of experience dealing with these complex situations both in my personal business career and in my advisory practice. I pay attention to my intuition because I have learned that it presents the best of what I have learned over the years. My insight provides potential solutions or paths through a critical circumstance. I can then step back and rationally evaluate these options by balancing the available facts and possible financial and individual impacts.
Aside from our cultural bias against things that cannot be clearly explained to someone else, I believe another major reason why business owners discount intuition is fear: fear of making a mistake, fear of looking foolish, fear of disappointing those that depend on them.
Many business owners also believe that intuition is difficult to rely upon because they are unable to access its power. Intuition presents itself as themes rather than facts. Intuition also requires that you have your radar dish open to receiving the messages. For some business owners their strengths are in reasoning and logic and therefore intuition may not have a place in diagnosing a situation. The truth, though, is that these same owners will actually be using their intuition every day to make decisions where there may not be good information. In these situations, intuition is called “judgment” and is considered to be a good thing!
So why not try following your intuition the next time there’s a decision to make? Detach from any certain expectation of the end result by telling yourself that either outcome will be fine. Relax and wait to see what may hit your radar. When you are off, adjust and learn. In time, you will learn to trust your intuition in much the same way you now trust your eyes and ears. Getting better at noticing how you feel, will help you better analyze the facts and gain valuable business insight.
David Wimer is founder and managing principal of David Wimer Advisors, LLC where he works with privately-held, family businesses to navigate business transitions and prevent financial crisis. He is the author of “Insight: Business Advice in an Age of Complexity“.