EditorialsLeadership

Trust your instincts, even on big decisions

Instincts begin to develop at an early age. If you trip and fall, you learn to look where you are going. As you learn to ride a bicycle your instincts kick in to keep you upright. Developing natural reactions to all sorts of things is part of growing up. We are continually learning how to react and then make decisions based on our experiences.

As adults we are called on to make all kinds of decisions using the knowledge and experience we have accumulated. Most of these day-to-day decisions are simple and require no special work. But occasionally issues are more complex. Sometimes the facts lead us to one decision, but something inside says “Don’t do it.” That is what I call the conflict between apparent logic and your instincts, or natural intuition.

One of my mentors had a great approach to this conflict of interest: When all the facts lead to one decision but the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and tell you to do the opposite, listen to the hairs. In more simple terms, trust your instincts. Your lifetime of experience is speaking to you.

Instincts at work
When a salesperson is pitching a product, they typically talk about the features and benefits of this new gadget. We are told about product research, case uses, consumer ratings and so on. We digest all the good stuff we’re told and then probably ask a few questions.

But at some point it is time to make a decision — buy or don’t buy. This is when our instincts might kick in. The facts say buy, but somewhere down deep we don’t feel right making the purchase. My advice: Trust your intuition and move on. Decades of life experience are directing you. Listen.

Instincts come in to play during interviews, too. Getting the right candidates into the right positions can be critical to the future of an organization. That’s a lot of pressure. But sometimes you need to go with your gut, because correcting a hiring mistake can be painfully consuming, disruptive and expensive. Not good.

I remember how I learned exactly this lesson. While screening an applicant who had an impressive resume, looked the part and interviewed well something just didn’t seem right. Yet all the facts showed that this was the right person for the job. And after discussing the situation with an associate I made the decision to hire. Oops. It was not long before we realized that I had made big mistake. The employee had the right skills but was a cultural misfit. I should have followed my instincts.

Like personnel, there are other big decisions that make it tough to feel like you can go with your gut. For example, capital decisions like purchasing an office building or a factory have long-term implications and need deep due diligence. The same can be said of big software purchases that impact large parts of a company and its employees. Mistakes on purchases of this nature are far-reaching and very difficult to overcome.

The bigger the decisions the more time and effort needs to be applied. In this case, build a well-researched list of pros and cons. But when it comes time to say yes or no, trust your instincts. If a feeling has been nagging you from the start, it’s probably the one you should pay attention to most.

We all accumulate a wealth of go-to knowledge over time. That is instinct, and it should not be ignored. When all is said and done, human intuition can be our greatest guide.

published Nashville Business Journal

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One Comment

  1. Joe, I always appreciate your perspectives and insight. Thank you reaffirming the “power of the gut.” I will be sure to listen to the small hairs.

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