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When to Trust Your Gut

Source | LinkedIn : By Don Peppers

Lots of business decisions are made purely on gut. And there are two schools of thought about this. Some people think that trusting your intuition is the right strategy in most situations, while others will argue that data and reasoning will always produce better decisions.

The 20th Century philosopher and teacher Ludwig Wittgenstein used to test his students’ intuition with a little brain teaser. The circumference of the earth is about 40,000 kilometers (not quite 25,000 miles). So, Wittgenstein would say, let’s say the earth were a perfectly round sphere and suppose you had a ribbon long enough that you could stretch it all the way around the world. Your intention is to fit this ribbon snugly around the earth so that it hugs the surface perfectly. Unfortunately, however, you made your ribbon one meter longer than needed. You have one meter of unnecessary slack for your ribbon-around-the-world project.

Here’s the brain teaser: If this one meter in slack were evenly distributed around the whole world, so that the ribbon hovered in the air slightly higher than the earth’s surface, how high off the ground would the ribbon be?

If you’re like most people, your gut will tell you that one meter, in a ribbon that’s already 40 million meters long, couldn’t possibly make a very noticeable difference. How could it?

While you’re trying to visualize this problem, let me suggest that both schools of thought about making business decisions – gut judgment and analytical thinking – have something to offer. Human intuition and judgment are amazingly accurate mechanisms for getting to the truth of an issue in many situations. We don’t really understand how the brain works, and intuition is nature’s way of reminding us how little we know.

But as good as it is, our intuition isn’t perfect, and it’s often not even rational. Instincts have been bred into us through millions of years of learning how to survive, how to avoid poisonous foods, how to anticipate danger, how to find the best mate, and how to benefit from others in a social group. So our gut judgments have many biases, which represent the shortcuts introduced into our thinking process over the millennia by these basic evolutionary needs.

Whenever data isn’t available, or whenever the facts aren’t clear, intuition can definitely be a powerful tool. But the problem with a gut judgment is that even when it isn’t right it will still feel right. And because of our natural biases, once we’ve made a gut judgment that feels good we’re much more likely to search for evidence supporting our belief, rather than considering whether there is evidence our belief might be wrong.

Read On….

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