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November 17, 1998

Intuition in Business

by Lynn B. Robinson

[A two part series, the first presents insights into the nature and uses of intuition. The second, in the next issue of The Harbinger, will suggest ways to develop intuitive skills.]

The present is about rapid change. The future is full of unknowns. Depending on one's world view, using our innate intuition helps us to cope with conditions of uncertainty that can seem frightening, restricting, or challenging. Though some people are uncomfortable with the word intuition, they willingly use popular metaphors such as "gut feeling," hunch, or instinct.

Michael Munn, Ph.D. is comfortable with naming and using his intuition. As a former aerospace chief scientist for Lockheed, Munn is an award-winning engineer who has managed multi million dollar covert projects. He and his teams have worked on tough technical problems for which there were no textbooks because they worked at the cutting edge of discoveries. One example is their program aimed at stopping Russian nuclear bombs in space. Munn credits their success to the use of brief meditative periods throughout the day so that they had time to listen to their intuitions. Munn says, "How do I know the answers are there? I see pictures or movies or dreamlike sequences. I have an immediate inner knowing that this is the answer for which I was waiting. My intuition lets me know, 'This is it!'''

Among its many definitions, intuition is called the act or faculty of knowing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition. Another definition is the capacity for guessing accurately; sharp insight. Precursors include the Latin "intueri," to look at or toward, contemplate; the Middle English "intuycion," contemplation; the Latin and French roots, in -- inside and tuicion -- to watch, guard, protect. Intuition is an unconscious, specialized source of information which thousands of years ago people understood as a source of protection. Intuition is knowing without knowing how you know.

Joel Levey, Ph.D. of InnerWork Technologies, Inc. describes intuition as direct, unmediated knowing which functions in a realm prior to thought and is different from thinking. Levey maintains that if we learn to listen deeply enough, intuition will reveal significant, profound insight into any question we hold in mind.

Gary Zukav, who wrote The Dancing Wu Li Masters, An Overview of the New Physics and Seat of the Soul, speaks of nonphysical guidance which always prompts you to your highest goals, the goals of your soul. That, Zukav maintains, is intuition.

Through a willingness to combine intuition and reason, intuitive people appear to have some life advantage. Edith Jurka, M.D. asserts that intuitive persons have a sense of more ultimate control and advantages in life because intuition and right brain functioning add creativity, humor, and the ability to solve problems, to reach goals and to manage people more effectively.

Intuitive messages come in numbers of ways. They can come through the brain's limbic system or neo-corex when you experience a hunch, visualize a symbolic image, have a relevant dream, have a wholistic "aha" moment, or gradually become aware of a correct path among previously divergent ideas. They can be expressed through the body when you experience a tightness in one or more definitive body areas, when you notice a distinct change in energy, when you hear a helpful directive or have specific awareness of changed feelings in a situation. They can originate in the outside world such as happens with a (Jungian) synchronicity, an unavoidable experience that leads to a new and right fit opportunity, or a convergence of options into a single specific one.

About two months after her husband's death, a friend suggested to Kathy Whitmire that she run for city controller of Houston, Texas. Whitmere attests to knowing immediately that she would do so and that political office would be a big part of her life. Acting on that intuition, she quit her job at the University of Houston and closed her CPA office to run for city controller. Later, from 1983-1991, she served as Houston's first female mayor and is now a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist is credited with having said, "It is fashionable stupidity to regard everything one cannot explain as a fraud." In a similar vein, well regarded author and management scholar Henry Mintzberg maintains that it isn't possible to assess the use of intuition by purely logical processes: "It is a subconscious process, which no one really understands, except by certain of its characteristics (such as the speed with which it can sometimes produce answers.) Thus the dismissal of intuition as an irrational process is itself irrational, just as embracing it as a process superior to formal logic is itself illogical."

The human brain is the vehicle for intuition. You can develop intuitive skills just as you can develop analytical ones. You just do it differently. Our need isn't logic or intuition, however. It isn't either or, it's both. Because situations in which managers operate are often chaotic, rational forms of decision making are often impossible, and managers fall back on their intuition. Some managers, however, admit to how important intuition is.

Consider Colin Powell's comments in 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. Hey, instinct, does this sound right? Does it smell right, feel right, fit right?"

Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline, argues strongly, "People with high levels of personal mastery do not set out to integrate reason and intuition. Rather, they achieve it naturally-as a by- product of their commitment to use all the resources at their disposal. They cannot afford to choose between reason and intuition, or head and heart, any more than they would choose to walk on one leg or see with one eye."

For more than a decade, Michael Ray, PhD. has taught Personal Creativity in Business as a course in Stanford's MBA program. Business giants participate as guest lecturers and subjects of case studies for the course. Dr. Ray has found that the success or failure of intuition in business varies with the people and reasons for bringing intuition consciously into organizations. Crisis situations most often force people to resort to intuition.

Dr. Ray relates five truths about intuition, truths that he's found many business people initially have difficulty accepting. Dr. Ray maintains, however, that as people begin to live with these truths, they begin to develop their intuition in remarkable ways-in business and in life. His five truths are:

  1. Intuition must be developed. Each of us has intuition within us, but we must accept the responsibility for our individual style of intuition and its development.
  2. Intuition and reason are complements. It is the combination of reason, experience, information and intuition that is so powerful.
  3. Intuition is unemotional. It is paying attention clearly to the most appropriate alternative that comes from the creative Essence.
  4. Intuition requires action. Follow-through is key to successful use of intuition in business. It requires timely hard work.
  5. Intuition is mistake free. There will always be "rational" reasons to support intuitive leaps. Beyond this we must have absolute faith that the intuitive part of us does not make mistakes.

Those who accept the use of intuition in business do so in many ways. It is used in decision making, in product development, in stress management, in team building, in worker relationships, and in multiple other ways. As people begin to see work as a place for human, personal development, they begin to see deep intuition as key to that growth. They begin to use intuition to uncover and actualize the limitless potential of their lives.

Intuition is the birthright of each of us. It's hardwired as a function or our humanity. To use intuition to its fullest requires attention to its growth and development. In the next issue of the Harbinger, this discussion will be continued with ideas and examples for enhancing your intuition. In the meantime, for those of you who enjoy using the internet, check out the following: the Intuition Network (http://www.intuition.org/) for discussion groups of many intuitive applications; Quantum-Mind (quantum-mind@listserv.arizona.edu), a moderated e-mail discussion of quantum approaches to consciousness; Princeton Engineering Anomaly Research (PEAR).


Dr. Lynn B. Robinson, emeritus professor of Marketing of the University of South Alabama, is an active business consultant, Dr. Robinson serves on the board of directors of the Intuition Network, an organization of thousands of individuals in business, government, health, science and education who are interested in cultivating and applying intuitive skills. She is author of Coming Out of Your Psychic Closet, How to Unlock Your Naturally Intuitive Self and can be heard with Jeffrey Mishlove, Ph.D., President of the Intuition Network on audio-cassette: Everyday Working Intuition, Portal to the Soul.


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