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Stephen Mayo | The Power of Intuition

The Power of Intuition

Aug. 16, 2020

"The difference between a so-so writer and a good one, or a good one and a great one, is in the quality of the intuitive decisions she’s able to make at speed."

          - Author George Saunders, interview in The Paris Review



Our brains have many modes for decision-making.  Let's look at 2 of them.

There's the rational, step-by-step mode: "if X, then Y, so I'd better do Z". 

There's also the intuitive, spontaneous process: picture the basketball player that instinctively cuts to the hoop at just the right moment. Imagine the artist that layers brush strokes quickly and purposefully.  Look at the board member that raises her hand and says, "Hold on, something is off. I think we need to look at this more closely"

At least in Western society most people tend to value more highly the step-by-step rational approach, perhaps because we can see all the steps. It feels more sound, more logical.

But becoming world-class at something seems to require more than a fast-thinking rational mind.  It requires integrating our knowledge, expertise, training and experience into an intuition that knows what's best, even when we can't explain why.

It takes practice to develop this intuition.  It takes awareness to even notice that it's there. And it takes tremendous courage to act upon it when the logical facts suggest a different path. 

Repeating that process is how we develop our intuition: Listen. Trust. Act. Repeat.

Rational decision-making is not wrong. It's limited. And world-class performance calls us to build intuition on top of it.

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