Mar 04 0 Responses

How Not To Propose To Your Girlfriend

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs

Imagine sitting at a small, intimate dinner table with the person you hope to spend the rest of your life with. The plates are being cleared; your hands brush. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Just as the sun slips behind the horizon, you reach into your pocket and pull out the spreadsheet you’ve prepared, analyzing the current state of your relationship.

As ridiculous as this sounds, organizations do this every day. From who we’re going to marry to where we’re going to live, gut and intuition play an enormous role in all of life’s major decisions. Yet, we’ve programmed our corporate decision makers to cower behind numbers and kneel at the altar of data.

 A Hunch is More Than a Hunch
The trouble with this is the very best decision makers, those known for their shrewd business sense and ability to predict future trends, are constantly sending their companies in logic defying directions. They often attribute these decisions to nothing more than “gut”, “intuition”, or “a hunch”.

In actuality, these gut reactions are the result of thousands of hours of subconsciously processed information. Our brains are drawing on patterns we can’t articulate and making connections we can’t explain. It’s this ability that allows a chess master to look at a board and instantly determine which, of over 50,000 possible configurations, is currently in play, and instinctively know where to move his piece[1].

Every time we make a decision, our brains are cross-indexing related information from similar situations. What looks on the outside, and may even feel on the inside, like intuition is actually a calculated response based on a deep understanding of the factors involved. Whether you realize it or not, you are applying a mental model to a specific situation. This model constantly changes and evolves as knowledge and expertise increase.

Decide Fast
The entire knowledge of human history is doubling every single year[2], meaning business models change overnight, and business plans are outdated before the ink is dry on the proposal. The cost of waiting until you have obtained all the data points is an obsolete decision.

Decisions have to be made quickly and tweaked constantly. The rapid pace of technology has moved us to a point where we have to make a call well before all the facts are in. This fluidity in decision making requires a great deal of self-awareness. This self-awareness, combined with the brain’s ability to draw on previous experiences, places you in the perfect position to determine the best path forward.

Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours
Intuitive decision making is the end result of our experiences, and it stands to reason decision-makers who have passed that 10,000 hour threshold, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, would be better at making decisions. This means the only way to make better gut decisions is to expose yourself to making more decisions. Being aware of and okay with making these decisions before all the facts are in will strengthen your ability to do so in the future.

One of the key ingredients of effective leadership is the ability to give an opinion, come to an agreement, or settle a dispute without full knowledge of a particular situation. Ralph Larson, the former CEO of Johnson and Johnson put it this way, “Very often, people will do a brilliant job up through middle management, where it’s heavily quantitative in terms of decision making. But then, they reach senior management, where the problems are more ambiguous, and we discover their intuition is not what it should be. And when that happens, it’s a problem. It’s a BIG problem.”

Know Thy Business. Know Thyself.
Acquiring more knowledge and gaining more experiences are the only way your brain can begin to make those cross-references. Trusting your gut is something that many of us have to learn to do. It’s easy to fall back on data, and we won’t be questioned if we point to numbers. But no one ever said, “Fortune favors the number cruncher.”

You’ll know a lot more about how someone will fit on your team from a long conversation than you could ever glean from a resume. Resumes don’t show intangibles. They can’t predict tenacity, adaptability, or curiosity.

Bold, unconventional decisions turn also-ran companies into market leaders. Motorola put a phone that analysts said would never be more than a novelty into production, and the RAZR is still the best selling clam-style cell phone of all time. Chrysler changed their entire public perception by going against industry experts’ advice and put a V10 engine in a sports car called the Dodge Viper. Microsoft’s former CEO, Steve Ballmer, famously laughed at the launch of Apple’s iPhone, describing it as “the most expensive phone in the world.” Less than a year later, it was also the best selling phone in the world.

When a deal just feels right, sign it. When you can’t put your finger on why a particular candidate seems like the right person for the job, but you just know they are, hire them. You can take solace in the fact that your decision wasn’t just a hunch, or a gut feeling, or some form of intuition; it was based on thousands of hours spent in hundreds of situations. It comes from your brain cross-referencing millions of data points that have been subconsciously wired together.

All so you can tell someone when asked why you did what you did, “I don’t know, I just trust my gut.”

1 Gardner, Howard. “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligence” 1993
2 Buckminster Fuller, R. “Critical Path” 1981

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