When Leaders Should Lose Their Gut

By Nancy Harlow Irwin

“I go with my gut.”

“I rely on gut instinct”

Sound frustratingly familiar? Gut is good, until it’s bad for business.

And how many times is gut instinct a recipe for disaster?

Gut instinct (or intuition) is a very real system of physiological change that influences our brains. This sense of prediction has been scientifically proven to help humans make certain decisions. A significant part of our “intuitive gut” is based on our primal “fight or flight” instinct. This instinct is both strong and intact in the 21st century.

If you doubt it, just think about your experience driving while a police car is right behind you on your bumper. No lights or sirens – they’re not looking at you, but your body is responding! This instinct still helps us today. Parents turn into tigers when their children are threatened. We flinch at unexpected noises and get ready to run.

But in today’s business climate, your gut instinct – that urge to “fight” or “flee” does not provide nearly enough rational choice to make the complex decisions leaders face daily. Still, executives routinely check their ‘gut’ when making key decisions for their business. Some proudly attest to this style of leadership, and with entrepreneurs, watch out!

Think of it this way. When you make a business decision, would you really want just two choices – to fight or flee? Or would you want a much broader set of choices backed by fact (not feeling) to deal with a complex issue? If you pick “gut” you may be limiting yourself to rather poor solutions.

So, what feels rational is really not rational at all.

An article in Medical Daily written by Samantha Olsen, quotes medical researchers who have studied the phenomena of intuition.

“We often talk about intuition coming from the body – following our gut instincts and trusting our hearts,” Barnaby D. Dunn, of the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge UK writes. “What happens in our bodies really does appear to influence what goes on in our minds. We should be careful about following these gut instincts, however, as sometimes they help and sometimes they hinder our decision-making.”

And yet, Dunn says, “Science relies on heuristic techniques for problem solving, learning, or discovery that engages in a practical approach to action that gut reactions can’t evidentially rival.”

Since our job as researchers and strategists is to ‘question answers,’ we work hard to push queries we know our gut-led clients can’t answer. We can offer data that works much better to predict success or tease out unpredicted barriers. Our goal is to help leaders think beyond their gut.

· Who are customers you aren’t reaching?

· What do these people think of you?

· What percentage of your customers is loyal to you?

· What are new markets you haven’t thought about?

· Can you quantify why customers buy from you or leave for competitors?

· What numbers do you have that predict this product will sell brilliantly?

· What is the evidence that your new retail location will be successful?

· Are you sure your customers will follow you in this new approach?

· What about this proposal is no one talking about?

You see, your gut is useful, but not always rational. It’s emotional but not quantifiable. It’s reactionary but not predictive. It’s powerful, but blind.

Our gut is quite masterful in divining nuances in human relationships.

It’s not so good for running a business. For that, you need real-time, market data.


About the author

Voccii is a brand strategy and market research company that tells leaders not only the “what”, but the “so what” and “what’s next.” We promise to make every client smarter and more competitive. http://www.voccii.com

Categories: Managing & Leading

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