Answer both of these questions based on intuition alone. Who’s going to win the NFL playoffs this year? What is the future of your company? Bet you’re ready to answer both but only willing to put one answer on the boardroom table. Why?
Intuition is a way of knowing that’s both revered and abhorred – particularly in business. There seems to be an inverse relationship between sophistication and attitude toward intuition.
No one’s really confident that they understand intuition. Who, exactly, trains in intuition? Who’s got some and knows how to use it? One of the reasons we like an MBA so much is we can tell who’s got them. With an MBA there are at least some grades to look back on and the pedigree of the school, but what have I got to show for intuition? Nothing. Which is why its difficult to respect.
That’s not to say that intuition isn’t used in sophisticated organizations. It’s there in all its glory. Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet: all three employ intuition with a heavy hand. It just hides behind the veneer of analytical savvy and a successful career.
Intuition is still too fragile in today’s corporate world. It needs a house. One of its best houses is “execution”.
Execution isn’t praised because it’s the rarest and most important capacity in a leader. We praise it because it’s the essential ingredient for building the walls that intuition can hide behind.
Being intuitive is a bit like being a clam.
Before clams were known for their pearls they were known for their shells. Thick, sharp, tough … the shells were everything we knew about them. Shells were all we could see. Once we figured out how to open them, clams became known for their meat. Juicy, tasty, and abundant … clams were for meat. And finally, after a long period of irrelevance, we started to know clams for their pearls.
But one thing is certain, clams have always grown pearls.
I think our understanding of intuition is on the same evolutionary path. It’s the pearl and we just noticed it.
P.S. Seth Godin gave a brief description of this tension.