Gut Check

Entrepreneurs make decisions every day. Some are large and many are small. Have you ever stopped to determine how it is that you go about making your decisions? Some entrepreneurs are deliberate and others tentative. Some are procrastinators and some use a consensus approach. I’d like to focus on two methodologies that present quite a conundrum for entrepreneurs – gut vs. data.

How many times have you heard the expression, “go with your gut?” We all know what this means. When presented with a choice or several choices, we use our intuition to select the one that “feels” right. Gut level decisions typically require no cognition or rational thought. To a great extent they are based simply on a feeling that we have. But . . . that feeling is generally developed over time on the basis of a wide range of experiences. The word “experience” is the key here. I’ll grant that there may be times when a gut decision can be successful without foundational experience. But I do not believe that gut-driven decision making can consistently be accurate in the absence of incrementally derived experience.

Decisions that are made utilizing factual data and logic may seem like a safe bet. But . . . there are a couple of caveats. First, we can sometimes be too analytical. We ponder the data and agonize over it. Do we have every last fact that might make a difference? What if one or more of the facts aren’t correct? Ultimately we can end up in an analysis paralysis situation that turns into a first class muddle. Second, even with data we still must interpret it. Assume that all of the facts are correct and that we have everything we need. The wrong conclusion can be reached if the information is improperly interpreted.

Early in our careers we should make decisions much more on the basis of facts and logic. As much as we might want to “trust our gut,” we just don’t have the experience necessary to do so and consistently make the right decisions. As we gain age and experience there’s a possibility that we also become a bit wiser. Wisdom is the magical ingredient that allows us to listen to our gut and make the right call. This doesn’t mean that we ignore fact-based decision making. But there will be situations where we’ve seen this rodeo several times. And as a result, we can pretty much predict what is going to transpire.

We all have intuition at the earliest stages of our adult lives. The big question is whether or not to trust it. Steve Jobs famously said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.” This is all fine and good. However, lofty and soaring statements like this aren’t necessarily helpful. The point I’m trying to make is that we can sharpen our intuitive skills by validating the patterns we observe over time. Here’s an analogy that will put this in a better perspective. Suppose we have a 26 year-old airline pilot. He’s very good at executing the mechanics of flying a jet aircraft. He’s been flying since he was 16 and has logged nearly 5,000 hours in the cockpit including 400 in his current aircraft type. Suppose you are one of 120 passengers aboard his aircraft. How comfortable are you placing your life in his hands if he tends to be more “intuitive” about the way he flies? Compare this to a 60 year-old airline captain who has been flying for more than 40 years. He has over 35,000 hours of flight time including 10,000 hours in the Boeing 757 that he currently drives around the sky. Which pilot’s “intuition” are you more likely to trust?

The veteran pilot has developed a sixth sense – aka intuition – for his aircraft and for flight in general. He’s seen it all over the course of his career. While he flies by the book and always checks the facts on all things weather, mechanical and aeronautical, he just “knows” when he needs to act on something that may not be factual in nature. Perhaps a little voice is telling him that there’s a problem with an engine even though the gauges are in the green. That little voice might be a subtle tone or vibration that only he can feel. Why? Because he knows his airplane so well that he has almost become one with it.

When we combine age, experience and wisdom, we sharpen our intuitive skills. Laying such a foundation enables us to rely more and more on our gut as we move down our career path.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 70 – Get Outta the Way!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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