Insider Intelligence: Basic Instincts

July 10, 2014
Don’t discount the value of listening to your gut feelings when making a decision

Trusted advisors are those highly capable individuals we call on for guidance and counsel. We seek them out to assist us in making informed decisions; as service providers we endeavor to be regarded as a trusted advisor as we advocate for our customers. Yet there is one type of trusted advisor that we have at our disposal that we may disregard at decision time — our instincts.

Most people are familiar with the routine functions of the primitive area of the brain. We are wired to survive. Many entrepreneurs credit “good instincts” as a key force propelling their own business survival. According to brain science, instinctual behavior happens beneath the conscious level. So how do some successful folks leverage the sway of instinct consciously in times of deliberation?

Professional interpretations of intuition properly employed was shared in the Harvard Business Review article “When to Trust Your Gut” by Alden M. Hayashi, who reports that “the intuitive insight that would save Chrysler in the 1990s came to Bob Lutz, then the company’s president, during a weekend drive.” In his account of the origin of the Dodge Viper project, Lutz self-proclaimed that he pursued the project despite the lack of market research to back his decision. He seemingly followed his “gut instincts.”

Most of us have been instructed to "trust our gut" and "follow our instincts" at some time or another. This type of advice is often provided when faced with lifestyle decisions or while engaged in a forum of creative thinking; yet, when tackling tough business decisions with financial implications, is it wise to trust our instincts, as allegedly occurred with Chrysler’s former president?

Do Your Homework — Don’t Discount Your Gut

If you look to the medical definition of instinct, we find that it drives actions independent of reason. It is unlikely that the majority of us would feel comfortable making a serious decision based solely on instinct; however, if you have deliberated over data and passed on a business deal because it didn't "feel right,” there is a good chance that your instincts played a role in that decision. Don’t dismiss your due diligence in the data process; but don’t discount your gut instincts either.

The ability to tune in to the frequency of that inner voice is paramount, and one tool in this process is disciplined self-awareness. Apparently, the other critical element involves the patterns, conditions and cues we have come to accumulate through related experiences. It appears that experience tends to inform our subconscious.

Consider for a moment your last successful deal. Can you remember what you felt at decision point, as well as the conditions and behavioral distinctions from the parties involved? Consider some not-so-successful ventures. Do you recall any internal feelings of restraint and reluctance to move forward that you over-rode with reason, data and business logic? Chances are that you may have underestimated the value of the past experiences subconsciously stored and refined in the form of inner wisdom.

As you conduct win/loss reviews, practice performing some emotional inventory in addition to the facts, and take notice of what the post-mortem revealed. The next time you are faced with a decision, listen to your gut as you deliberate over the data. The more conscious you are in this practice, the sharper your decision making focus will become. The best thing is your inner advisor won’t send you an invoice for billable hours.

Barbara Shaw, CPLP, is Director of Education for PSA Security Network. To request more info about PSA, please visit