What is Intuition?

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am. When two expeditions of scientists, financed by the Royal Academy, went forth to test my theory of relativity, I was convinced that their conclusions would tally with my hypothesis. I was not surprised when the eclipse of May 29, 1919, confirmed my intuitions. I would have been surprised if I had been wrong.”[1] – Albert Einstein, 1931

Intuition arrives in a flash of thought, a sense of knowing that appears much like a curtain being opened to reveal something previously hidden from view. Intuition often arrives with a sense of rightness, a sense that one is sure, surer than we ever are of facts despite the absence of logical support; we somehow know that what was revealed represents the truth. Bodily sensations sometimes arrive with intuitive thought such as all-over chills when the intuitive thought affirms something that excites you; nausea when intuition delivers a sense of foreboding.

I expect my gut to speak to me and when it does, I listen.

Logic or intuition?

Is logic better than intuition or is intuition better than logic? I’ve learned that if you want people to think you’re rational, don’t tell them you’re doing something because of a feeling. Those of us who trust our gut are sometimes told we are “crazy” but we’re in good company. In addition to Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, J. Lo, and Richard Branson put trust in their intuition.

“Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect.” – Steve Jobs

“I’m often wrong, but my batting record is good enough that I keep swinging every time the ball is thrown.” –Bill Gates referring to his gut instinct in an interview with CNN in 2002

“I only do what my gut tells me to, I think it’s smart to listen to other people’s advice, but at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can tell you what’s right for you.” –Jennifer Lopez (J. Lo)

“I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”    –Richard Branson

Decisions have consequences. Personal decisions affect the course of our life and the lives of those we love. Business decisions can affect the lives of thousands of people. Should we use logic when we make decisions or is trusting our gut a legitimate strategy?

Dreamers with high achievements tell us to trust our gut.

Business schools historically taught us that good leaders, managers, and workers use emotionless processes to make decisions. Reality paints a different picture.

As early as 1882, we knew that decision making theories and actual practice were different.

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.” –Benjamin Brewster, The Yale Literary Magazine, Feb. 1882

Why is innovation important?

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane assert, “Innovation is a prerequisite for success in increasingly dynamic and competitive markets.”

When you consider the way economics works, when the value of an outcome is known, the cost is determined by that value. Innovations involving risk and unknown future values provide the greatest opportunity for leverage that can propel an organization forward.

If you can get there with logic, the market has probably already set prices that consume most of the potential profits.

Is Intuition accurate?

The accuracy of our gut instincts is inconsistent. Our intuition can lead us to great achievements and self-destructive failures. Intuition can help us make better decisions faster, but it can also lead us astray.

How do we know when to trust our intuition, when to ignore it, and when to get more information from other sources before we proceed?

I learned I can trust my gut when I’m making decisions:

  • When I have a strong basis of knowledge in the subject,
  • When I’m not sleep deprived,
  • And to exercise caution when I’m feeling fearful.

One highly visible example is professional coaches who make quick decisions without analyzing the situation. One coach who participated in a research study had this to say:

“I would like to say, when I was learning and gathering my experience, it’s definitely that planned [considered] approach because you felt safe, you felt okay. . .Whereas now [referring to intuitive characteristics], I kind of, almost get a bit more excited, I didn’t expect that, that’s great. Let’s go with it and see how it goes, probably because you know at the back of your head, that if it starts to go wrong, you can still fix it and put it back on track.”[2]

Although intuition can guide us away from bad choices, we should be cautious about whether what we are feeling is intuition or simply mood congruent thought. Our thoughts tend to match our mood. If we’re normally fearful, we will experience fear even when our intuition is guiding us toward something that would have a positive outcome.

Intuition is marked by a sense of sudden realization, clarity, or sureness about something without a logical basis for the feeling. Intuition feels different than random thoughts. If we don’t dismiss intuitive thoughts, if we instead reach for them and explore them, milking them for the wisdom they contain, we benefit.

Trusting our gut isn’t just about what we should do—it can also let us know when to run the opposite direction. There is an intuitive part of us that feels uneasy when something or someone is off.

When intuition tells us to avoid someone or something or to flee, it isn’t just a thought. It is accompanied by an almost uncontrollable urge; the urge requires effort to resist yet resist it we do if we feel that the action our intuition is guiding us toward violates social norms. Trust it anyway.

“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” – Kahili Gibran

[1] Einstein, Albert, Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms, 1931


[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4830814/pdf/fpsyg-07-00504.pdf