Many methods exist for making decisions. We have tools like decision-making grids and root-cause analysis. We have trusted friends and advisory boards. We also have gut instinct and rational thinking.
At the personal level, some prefer instinct while others like rational thinking. But why not use both?
In one situation I know of, a sales manager erred by allowing someone else’s bad advice to over-ride her gifted gut instinct.
She had noticed one of her sales reps was not doing well. Despite his best efforts, he simply wasn’t cut out for the job. She was about ready to let him go when she noticed that every time he did something mechanical he excelled. His eyes lit up every time he had the opportunity to build or fix something.
Her instinct told her that this sales rep would be happier—and more successful—in a different career. In an act of good will she thought it might be helpful to explain her perspective to him, and then assist him in choosing another career and even help with his job search.
The problem occurred when this manager brought up the idea with her secretary. The secretary agreed that the man wasn’t selling well, but objected to the manager’s idea, saying, “Don’t tell him that, you’ll crush him.” She believed the sales rep’s self-esteem would be destroyed if his boss told him he wasn’t cut out for sales.
Against her better judgment, the manager heeded the secretary’s warning. In the end, it was a bad move. Frustration, angst, and hard feelings began to emerge between the manager and the sales rep. It continued to worsen until the sales rep resigned three months later.
Ironically, he found himself a different job in which he got to work with his hands.
This problem could have been avoided if the sales manager had used her rational thinking in addition to trusting her instincts. Instead, she took responsibility for the employee’s feelings without even talking with him. That’s not rational.
By itself, instinct can be incredible. It’s what sparks our imagination, enables our creativity, and takes us to new heights. But although instinct can be a powerful ally (just ask Yoda), sometimes it can be dangerously deceptive (just ask Anakin Skywalker).
An example of being tricked by gut intuition is making a hiring decision based on instinct alone. The new person seems like the perfect fit—for a while. But before long he falls off the pedestal and his true colors show through.
Instinct is not error-proof, and that’s why we benefit by using rational thinking. An example of this might be a businessman who is presented with the perfect business deal. If he relied on gut instinct alone he would jump on it in a heartbeat. But, after researching the deal more thoroughly, he discovers that if he engages the deal at the present time he would exhaust all of his current resources.
His instinct was right on the money. But rational thinking showed that the timing was not right, and he averted a catastrophic decision.
Don’t get me wrong. We need to trust our instincts. They’re powerful and can open many opportunities for us. But for optimal decisions we should weigh our instinct against our rational thinking.
Use tools, techniques, and advisors to help. But if advisors aren’t available and you have a tough choice to make, consider the following two simple steps to help you make sure you're doing the right thing:
1. Take some time and map out your reasons for action.
2. Then map out the ripple effects of NOT taking action.
Bottom line, trust your gut instinct; but also think things through. With that combination you’re probably making some pretty good decisions.