Intuition and Decisions

By Brady Mick

Feb. 11, 2014

Workplaces are shifting from task-oriented environments to requiring more complex problem-solving. The way that business leaders made decisions in the past is no longer a guide to making future decisions; adopting a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional reasoning alone is fast becoming a crucial business practice. Such complexity allows for creativity and a focus on the role of human intuition in the workplace.

No doubt, data analysis and past results remain crucial to drive business decisions. Yet following gut instinct — even with all of its inherent risks — has pushed many an organization to success. Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates was quoted as saying that one often has to rely on intuition. Albert Einstein also was a believer: “The only real valuable thing is intuition,” he once said.

But cultivating and maintaining a work environment that encourages intuitive thought can be a challenge. In a competitive market, when attracting and retaining a quality workforce is necessary to achieve better business results, fostering an environment that leads to increased intuition is essential. Rather than overanalyzing data, which can lead to second-guessing, changing direction or bogging down a project, intuition can push decision-making. 

What Is Intuition?

An Intuitive List to Follow

The following simple behaviors have little financial risk but can foster a culture and workplace where intuition has greater value.


1. Be open to ideas. Unleashing intuition begins by listening, but it also requires asking caring questions. Nothing kills morale and the creative process faster than when a new idea is shot down before any discussion occurs.

2. Recognize there are bad ideas.Being open to and encouraging new ideas doesn’t mean that every idea is a good one. Listen to your gut and weigh ideas carefully.

3. Allow for failure and don’t punish it. Recognize that new ideas are inherently risky and come with the prospect of failure. Don’t make a guaranteed win or a home run a prerequisite for implementing a new idea. Employees who fear being thrown under the bus if their idea fails will quickly shut down their intuitive creativity.


1. Think innovative, not only collaborative. Busy schedules leave workers with little time to focus, and that inability to concentrate leaves minimal time to innovate. Rebalance spaces equally for collaboration and innovation. Innovative moments typically happen in unexpected places rather than in conference rooms, workstations and offices.

2. Create intuitive spaces. Make serene, personal spaces that allow for individual thought. Create niches, play places and partially enclosed corners to encourage intuitive contemplation and interaction. These settings replace collaborative interaction time with a chance to explore fresh ideas in a meditative setting. 

3. Display ideas. Recognize the importance of intuitive thoughts by making them visual in workplaces. Utilize white boards, team electronic monitors and pin-up walls and watch intuition blossom into business results.

—Brady Mick

Intuition is a natural ability that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence. It’s also a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why. But rather than the modern take that self-reflection does not accomplish results, intuition is the product of innate, internal filtering and not the result of external stimuli or data.

In business as in life, relying on intuition alone is not healthy. Yet, neither is a work culture or work process devoid of intuitive recognition.

As former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted in his book “My American Journey,” “Dig up all the information you can, then go with your instincts. We all have a certain intuition, and the older we get, the more we trust it. … I use my intellect to inform my instinct. Then I use my instinct to test all this data.”

Though intuition can be an important business tool, its real value is that it often leads to creativity, which in turn leads to innovation. Take Tesla Motors Inc. Although electric cars had not grasped a significant share of the auto market for a number of reasons, Tesla founder and serial entrepreneur Elon Musk took a gamble.

His company’s first electric car rolled off the assembly line in 2008. By 2012, with a deliberately planned slow rollout, there were several thousand Tesla Roadsters on the streets in more than 37 countries. By relying on intuitive insight — anticipating where the auto industry and the car-buying public were heading — Tesla executives’ hunches are paying off, as its stock was at about $175 in late January more than triple what it was trading at in the beginning of 2013.

In a 2010 study, IBM Corp. surveyed more than 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide. When asked what they thought was the key to managing the complexities and sudden shifts in the economy, they said success will require creativity more than rigor, management discipline and even integrity.

The IBM report identified four key leadership behaviors:

• Altering the status quo. Leaders must be bold enough to make decisions that rock the boat.

• Embracing disruptive innovation. Long the playground of startups with little to lose, disruptive innovation — creating new markets by applying a different set of values — is an area where established organizations must learn to operate.

• Comfort with ambiguity. The marketplace distrusts ambiguity, but it is everywhere and must be accepted.

• Invention by creativity. The creative process of people working together to build new business models is based on the three I’s: intuition, ideas and insights.

History Lesson

Some companies and their leaders have embraced intuition throughout the organization’s history to improve their bottom line. One example is Cork Walgreen, who led national drug store chain Walgreen Co. from 1969 to 1998.

Before Walgreen assumed control of the Chicago-area company, the family-run business was already a leading innovator, opening numerous stores in the 1940s and jumping into television advertising when it still was a fledgling medium. The third-generation Walgreen leader followed the family’s tradition of taking risks; his innovation drove the business to new heights with unprecedented expansion across the country and a chainwide launch in the late 1980s of a computerized pharmacy system.

By the time Walgreen stepped down, the company had more than 2,200 stores, along with 23 consecutive years of record sales and six stock splits, increasing the company’s value from $164 million to $19 billion.

Walgreen’s decisions furthered a foundation of public trust that has allowed the pharmaceutical giant to reinvent its business model while remaining true to its core competencies. While customers can still fill prescriptions and buy a bandage, Walgreen was an early adopter of in-store health clinics. Some Walgreen stores now offer lunch counters and minigrocery stores that sell fresh fruit and vegetables alongside traditional health care goods and sundries.

Though the quest for short-term gains has removed the tolerance for risk in many businesses, rewarding the safe and the “same old, same old,” organizations can unleash the power of intuition with a revamp of corporate culture and workspace design.

Finding the Behavioral Traits of Intuitively Focused People

One way to transform teams for greater productivity, innovation and creativity is to select individuals who are highly intuitive. Since some people are more naturally intuitive than others, it is helpful to learn how to recognize the traits that intuitive individuals possess and then cultivate those behaviors in the workplace.

Some of these traits include:

• An openness to new ideas.

• Enthusiasm for the active creative process.

• Belief in a wide range of possibilities.

• Ability to express thoughts creatively.

• Often thinking with a counterintuitive vision.

• A mindset that is imaginative and visionary.

• Proactively seeking opportunities to advance the business.

—Brady Mick

Culture fosters intuitive behaviors, thoughts and feelings to become realized within the actions of work. The workplace is the stage where intuitive ideas are born, shared and molded into measurable and actionable creative solutions to complex problems.

Leaders can look for ways to encourage individuals to use their intuition to contribute to the success of the company.

In their book “Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination,” authors Jane Magruder Watkins, Bernard Mohr and Ralph Kelly talk about the benefits of constructing “possibility statements,” which they suggest bridge the best of what is with what might be. “It stretches the status quo, challenges common assumptions or routines and helps suggest real possibilities that represent desired possibilities for the organization and its people. … It is this collection of possibility statements that provide the clear direction for all the organization’s activities. Just as a stream always follows the call of the ocean, the organization will move forward toward its highest and most imaginative visions for the future.”

In a recent essay on LinkedIn, Jack Welch explained intuition this way: “Gut instinct is a deep, even subconscious familiarity — the voice inside you that tells you, ‘Go for it now’ or ‘No way — not ever.’ ”

Intuition can be a powerful business tool. Used in equal measure with intellect and emotion, intuition reveals opportunities and allows companies to prosper and mature even in the midst of a complex array of problems.

While data certainly serves its purpose, re-establishing intuitive nature is essential if the workforce is to be prepared to drive business into the complexity of the future. One thing is clear. The business world is in a renaissance, and intuition can help light the way.

Brady Mick is an architect, workplace strategist and client leader for Cincinnati-based BHDP Architecture. To comment, email Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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