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.

Swivel Head

A good pilot has his head on a swivel. He is constantly scanning his instrument panel as well as the skies around him. There may be other airplanes in the immediate area to avoid. Maybe there are TV towers or smokestacks to miss. Engine performance gauges must be monitored and navigational displays are critical to comprehend. All of this can be summarized in two words . . . situational awareness. Without situational awareness we are more vulnerable to physical dangers around us. A lack of it can result in an auto accident, stepping off a curb and breaking an ankle, or starting a fire when the grill is too close to the house.

In the entrepreneurial world, situational awareness is worth its weight in gold. Now, you may be wondering how this concept applies to business situations. It has less to do with physical proximity and more to do with possessing a sixth sense about a multitude of factors. As entrepreneurs we can attain a much higher degree of success as we develop our entrepreneurial awareness. For example, how well do we sense what is happening in our marketplace? There’s more to this than just crunching numbers. The key is to look behind the empirical data and understand what is truly happening. Here’s a simplistic illustration. A quick look at market share might show that our firm is way out in front of the competition. And yet, we know that a start-up company has won three of the last five contracts for which we’ve competed. Not enough to move the market share needle, but could signal trouble down the road. Situational awareness would have us take immediate action to understand why they are winning and we are losing, and then do something about it.

Situational awareness from an entrepreneurial perspective involves a deep understanding of our customers and what makes them tick. Customer satisfaction surveys help in this regard, but we may need more than data. In person meetings are the best bet for getting a good read on our customers. If not in person, the next best option is a phone conference. At the root, we’re looking for little tells that might indicate whether or not our customers are 100% in our camp. We encountered a situation a few years ago where we thought our client was totally satisfied with our services. Our team was convinced that we had performed as or better than expected. And yet, I had a gnawing feeling that something was amiss. When we dug in deeper we learned that the client was actually hiring a competitor. The reason had nothing to do with our performance and everything to do with the fact that a corporate decision had been made to consolidate its business to a national company. I’ve always wondered whether we might have saved the business by doing some things in a radically different manner had our situational awareness enabled us to act sooner.

Finally we must keep our finger on the pulse of our team. Are we on the lookout for signs of tension, boredom or anxiety? It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day chaos that we all experience and miss the signs that are flashing relative to our team. Perhaps an outgoing team member who normally participates in company activities gradually pulls back and is less gregarious. Without situational awareness, we could easily overlook that this individual is headed for the exits until it’s too late. Realizing this sooner might have given us a chance of resolving whatever issue is causing our teammate to look elsewhere.

Situational awareness at the entrepreneurial level requires a certain degree of intuition. But even more important is our being intentional about having a deeper understanding of that which is happening around us. Then we’re less likely to unwittingly step off the cliff and into the abyss.

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.

Shark

Soaring

Question: I’d like to become more imaginative and creative. What suggestions do you have?

Answer: I’ve heard theories that imagination and creativity are innate – you either have it or you don’t. I’ve also heard some people state, “I’m just not a creative person.” In my opinion, everyone is born with imagination and creativity. With some people it’s “closer to the surface” than with others, but it’s still present within every one of us. The key is what we do to bring it into reality.

As entrepreneurs, we tend to spend a lot of time in a left brain mode. We’re analyzing, planning, verbalizing, logical and detail-oriented. But imagination and creativity emanate from the right brain. And if we don’t spend much (if any) time in a right brain mode, how then can we develop our ability to imagine and create the good that we seek? There certainly are things we can do that are outside our comfort zone. What might they be?

I used to read business books and magazines all the time. Nothing else was in my library. Growing up I loved to read, but as I began my career it was all about learning everything I could about business methods, theories and case studies. I participated in education sessions and seminars to obtain a professional designation – all related to my industry. I wrote articles for trade publications. Again, they were all focused on the business of my business. After a few years it became clear to me that my one-dimensional approach to reading, learning and writing wasn’t doing anything to make me more creative or innovative. There is no doubt that I was becoming an expert in my field, but so what? Who wants to be a boring expert? And I noticed that solving problems wasn’t as easy or as fun as it was when I first started my journey.

A course correction was in order for me. I began reading a wide variety of publications. I actually began reading fiction books! Rather than allowing my whole life to revolve around business and more particularly, my business, I decided it was time to be much more curious about a whole lot of things. As a kid, I remember rainy Saturday mornings spent with World Book encyclopedias. I would pore through them in fascination. Somehow I had moved away from exercising my right brain. Living a more varied life was a gradual thing. But I found that the more I got out of my comfort zone and did things unrelated to my business, the more creative and imaginative I became. Today I believe that my levels of creativity and imagination are at an all-time high because I touch everything that I can – music, literature, spirituality, philanthropy, social studies, psychology, sports and the list goes on.

In order for our imaginations to soar we must step out of the forest and into the sunlight. Then we can look around and see beyond our limits. When we become curious about and interested in an infinite number of things, our creativity and intuition will become stronger and new ideas will flow effortlessly.

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.

soaring