A case study of using my intuition

I had a really good intuitive experience a few weeks ago and thought it would helpful to write it up. It isn’t particularly notable from my perspective, but does serve as a nice example of how things work.

The problem
In the “day job” we’ve been working in the same industry for nearly 20 years. At one level things haven’t changed much, but at a deeper level there are lots of undercurrents. And of course no industry is immune to wider trends (for us, the move to the Cloud, BYOD, outsourcing to name a few).

I’ve been struggling to encapsulate everything into a coherent whole which we can easily explain to people in a way that’s exciting and relevant. I’ve got all the words and concepts but when communicating strategy, brevity is power.

The experience
I’m in my hotel room on the first night of “Adventures in Clean” and at 3am I am suddenly wide awake and I just know how all the bits fit together and how talk about it. I don’t need to think about it, I just need to write it down and let it flow. Half an hour later I’ve dictated it all as a Voice Memo and can go back to sleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night is relatively unusual for me, but I will often get stuff as I fall asleep, or in the “golden hour” of half sleep/wake that I have in the mornings.

Why it felt “right”
I have some guides for myself which help me tell what might be helpful rather than nonsense my head makes up:

  • I was happy. I was really enjoying Adventures in Clean and the atmosphere was lovely. A really loving, enquiring, human environment.
  • I wasn’t worrying, or willing stuff to come. It just arrived. No pressure.
  • Everything I got resonated. There were no real surprises.
  • It was beautiful.
  • It was consistent, both internally, and the direction we were going in.
  • It was simple.
  • It was win/win for everyone (us, customers, competitors, etc.).
  • I had a strong feeling of knowing.

If what I got was a radical shift, or was messy, or involved someone being harmed, I’d generally discard it as paranoia.

What happened next
I always like to softly test stuff, partly as a sanity check, and partly to ensure I express it right. When I got back to the office I tried the messaging out on one of my colleagues who is an excellent sounding board. His positive reaction gave me the confidence I needed to implement.

Of course, it’ll get tweaked around the edges a bit as time goes on, but the essence will be unchanged, because I’ve got a really nice foundation.

The conventional way
It is probably worth considering the conventional way of coming up with strategic positioning:

  • You’d get lots data (surveys, reports, etc.).
  • You might well spend a lot of money on consultants (Gartner et al.)
  • There would be a long meeting of the senior leadership team.
  • The result would be chiseled in stone and handed to the masses who would be expected to implement it unquestioningly.

That’s probably the only way in a large company, and there’s nothing wrong with it. And I suspect there’s plenty of intuition involved, albeit hidden behind charts and long reports – because there’s a need to defend decisions, and that means data. The fact that you can pick the data that supports your desired outcome is the elephant in the room!

I didn’t need that. I got it all in 30 minutes, and in a privately held company I don’t need the decision making ceremony you might need elsewhere.

Of course, doing strategic planning intuitively can make you look arrogant at best, and completely nuts at worst. Which is why it is really useful to be able to talk about intuition openly.

Why this matters
I believe we’ve got ourselves into a very curious situation where there’s tremendous pressure to make decisions in a very factual, evidence-based way, and not rely at all on intuition.

The problem with that approach is that it is expensive, rarely leads to breakthroughs – and has a fatal weakness in that the evidence can be selectively considered. So you’re back to either inuition (but don’t admit it!) or randomness.

This isn’t a new observation – there’s countless academic studies dispairing about decision making in many many scenarios, and there’s there’s plenty of evidence of catastrophically bad decisions which were made in the most professional of manners with waggonloads of evidence to support them.

I want restate the case for intuition, and develop an understanding how it can be used safely. Particularly in smaller companies, where the desire to “act professionally” often kills.


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