Trust Your Guts – Instinct vs Analytics

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, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

How many times have you heard it? Trust your first instinct, don’t change that exam answer. If the distance says 5-wood, but something in you is saying 3-wood, take out the 3-wood. So, if your gut is all knowing, why is there such an emphasis on measurement and analysis in management? Why don’t we just read the tea leaves each morning, and make our biggest decisions that way?

Did you need data to choose your life-partner? How about your alma mater? Was there deep analysis that led you to choose the name of your first-born? Likely, not. But you still can’t tell your board or your leadership team that you need to launch a new service offering, because ‘your gut says so’.

So, what’s the right interplay? Where does analysis stop and instinct begin, or vice versa?

The Reaganesque ‘Trust But Verify’ works for us. Use your guts to lead you to a hypothesis. Use your intuition to decide on how best to verify it. Then, go get the data and build the case to win over your peers and bosses. Sooner or later, the decision-makers will need to trust their guts to make the call. After all, even when the evidence is beyond the shadow of a doubt, the decider needs to take a leap of faith when the time comes to choose.

Kathy Kolbe’s ground-breaking work on the Kolbe Index is putting instinct back out front, where it belongs. Her system measures a person’s instinctive method of operation (MO), and identifies the way people take action.
Conation is a term meaning any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort. It is one of three parts of the mind, along with the affective and cognitive. In short, the cognitive part of the brain measures intelligence, the affective deals with emotions and the conative drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings.
Kolbe went on to develop a set of theories and constructs that explain how individuals fit best in varied work settings and how the MOs of the people on a team will affect performance. Kolbe’s theory is essentially that you’re not getting the most out of your life, your people, your teams, or your organization, if you don’t feel free to function in your natural operating mode. The theory states that each of us will use one Way of Problem Solving for each of four Key Action-Modes, when we tackle challenges in the way we are most naturally comfortable.

So, where does this leave training, education, functional roles, cultural norms, etc? It seems that, as long as your instincts remain at the top of your decision-making hierarchy, they will lead you to the appropriate training, practice, preparation, role, and organization to perform most naturally and consequently, optimally throughout your life.
We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making it…We believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time as possible in deliberation. We really only trust conscious decision making. But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world. The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact: decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.
Malcolm Gladwell, Blink
So, why is it then that most people (Kolbe estimates more than 80%) seem to be out of touch with their life path, exhausted by their role, and drained by their relationships? Kolbe would say it is largely because ‘Conation’ has quite literally dropped out of the dictionary. MS-Spell-Checker symbolically replaces the word conative with cognitive, just as we are generally taught to put intellect ahead of instinct.

Whether it’s at work or at school, we tend to take a ‘one size fits all’ attitude towards learning and problem-solving, which often interferes with our natural modes. Unfortunately, an overemphasis on cognition isn’t new:
Until the intellect is placed by the community where it belongs; and made subordinate to the sensibility and the will, we shall find that mere sharpness, shrewdness, intellectual power, and success through these, will be placed above those higher qualities in which character consists, and success through them.

Mark Hopkins, President of Williams College ‘An Outline Study of Man’ (1878)
So, on the golf course or in the boardroom, take time out for that critical gut-check, then go and get the data!


Neil McDougall

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