To Be Effective, Believe in Your Inner Compass


Have you ever just known the answer to a problem?

Has your "gut" set off an alarm that told you to watch out, a tentative decision is just not right?

Have you ever listened to your inner voice and were glad that you did?

Of course you have. We all have an inner compass.

Call it a "gut feeling," intuition or instinct. We use it in our personal lives, like when we just know we have found the right home to purchase or found a soul mate to share our lives.

But for many in business, the inner compass is underused.

We are trained to think critically. We learned the importance of applying the scientific method as an analytic tool for discovery. We justify our decisions with research and analysis. And not surprisingly, we find it difficult to trust something that we can't logically explain.

The reality is that information is costly to obtain. And because we have limited time and resources, decisions are made with varying degrees of incomplete or imperfect information.

Furthermore, urgency increasingly prevails in today's business. Global competition, technological innovation and rapidly changing economic conditions make timely, good decisions ever more important for organizational success.

Late decisions hurt a company's competitiveness. Having the right answer but being late doesn't help when you miss out on a strategic acquisition or when you lose customers to competition because of a delay in introducing a new product.

So how do we reconcile the need for correct decisions with the need for timely, if not fast, decisions?

Part of the answer lies in using our inner compass. Despite incomplete or imperfect information, at some point we need to decide . . . to commit to a course of action . . . to act.

For example, analysis and research have to start somewhere. A guess or testable hypothesis that might yield the most insightful results has to be made. Or, when we are thinking about breaking new ground, of doing something no one has ever done before, at some point we have to stop the analysis and make a decision.

Every day, managers rely upon their intuition in making decisions and solving problems. This might range from a strategic decision in business to a scientific discovery in a laboratory.

For example, when Andy Grove decided to get out of the DRAM (memory) chip business and focus on microprocessors, he was not certain, based on the facts and analyses he reviewed, that was the right decision. But his inner compass, his intuition, ultimately told him that it was right. And Intel's success has demonstrated the value of Andy Grove's inner compass.

In science, as Albert Einstein discussed, our inner compass, our intuition, has been, and is, an important component in scientific discovery.

Does this mean we should stop doing analysis, using facts, in making decisions? Absolutely not. Fact-based analysis, logic and the scientific method are clearly fundamental components in good decision-making.

Unfortunately, we typically do not have access to all the relevant information we want when we must make a decision.

This is particularly true for situations that are new, pioneering or radically different.

Here are ideas to more effectively use your inner compass:

1. Start with smaller, less risky decisions as you build your confidence in using your inner compass. Get ready by calibrating management's need for analysis and justification for different types of decisions. And make sure you have an understanding of how the organization supports risk-taking as you move beyond the smaller, less-risky decisions.

2. Build awareness of your inner compass. Be sensitive to your intuition as you make decisions and as others make suggestions to you. Find quiet time to allow your right brain to work.

Before making a decision, ask yourself if a suggested course of action feels right or wrong. Your inner compass is a valuable checkpoint that can signal reinforcement or conflict with personal and organizational values.

3. Reflect upon and absorb experiences--yours and others--so that you might more rapidly identify emerging patterns. This will help your "lateral thinking" and move beyond just seeing facts or situations as unrelated pieces.

4. Consider using a "ready, fire, aim and refire " approach.

Get ready--use your inner compass along with your analysis and logic. You might be surprised at how fast you can find the appropriate direction to take, albeit along a path that might need some adjustment.

Fire--implement the decision. By using your compass you make faster progress while developing real experience to make better future decisions.

Aim and refire--assess your results and make the appropriate adjustments. More than likely, your decision will be directionally correct, requiring small to moderate adjustments, and not a 180-degree turn.

Fire again.

Our inner compass is not a substitute but a complement to logic and analysis. Our inner compass provides focus, a fertile starting point, when available facts cannot provide clear direction.

Let's not undervalue ourselves. If we are to be fully effective, we need to believe in our inner compass. We need to nurture our ability to use it. We need to listen to our inner voice.

Let's get ready by teaming our logic, facts and analysis with our inner compass. Next, let's act, start, do. And then, let's aim and fire again.

Gary Izumo is a professor in the Moorpark College business department and has managed his own consulting practice. Izumo is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and Practice Leader for the Strategic Management Consulting Practice of Price Waterhouse.

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