It is not hard to find advocates or quotes from business men and women about going with your gut, or trusting your intuition. Richard Branson once said: “I can tell you that when I have to decide whether or not to go ahead with a new venture, I have often found that intuition is my best guide.” Bill Gates once said: “Often you have to rely on intuition.” Is it really that simple though? Can you ignore evidence, advice or data in favour of intuition every time? Does your gut take priority over your head? What is the truth about using intuition in business?
Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple, is a business leader who talked about intuition. In an interview with the New York Times, Jobs said: “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”
That work involved launching ground breaking products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad, and making Apple one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. On the surface his intuition appears successful, but the reality is more nuanced than that. What about the failures that Steve Jobs was involved with? While you will know about the iPhone and the iPad – you might even be reading this article using one of those devices – you are unlikely to have heard of the Apple Lisa, The Apple III, the Powermac g4, or Macintosh TV. These are all examples of product failures, where Jobs’ intuition let him down.
What is the difference between the successes and the failures? It is impossible to give a single answer to that but one important factor is experience. Steve Jobs’ intuition on the iPhone was better than on other products because he had more experience of his industry and his business at the time of that decision.
Warren Buffet, the famous and hugely successful investor, is another example. He is known for having incredibly good instincts that enable him to take decisions on opportunities that other people don’t recognise. His has built up a massive fortune on the back of this, but is it down to intuition?
For an indication of the answer you have to go back to the 1960s when Buffett was in his 30s. He made a decision during that period which he said cost him $200 billion. This has been described by Buffett as a “youthful intuitive mistake” that with experience he is now less likely to make.
Going With Your Gut
Using intuition to be successful in business is possible, and many leaders have attributed at least some of their success to intuition. But this cannot exist in isolation. To use your gut properly you also need to be immersed in your business and your industry. You need to know as much about it as possible, you need to do research, you need to analyse data, and you need experience.
You will then be faced with situations and decisions that are not black and white: the course of action will not be clear after looking at the data, and you will receive contradictory and conflicting information. This is where you can effectively use intuition.
Intuition is crucial in business, but it is not a fleeting event that appears out of nowhere. It is something that you develop over time, and that you can improve.