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Going with your gut: a fish story

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Ever heard a good, rational reason for trusting your gut?

Here’s how executive coach George Ritcheske explains it. What intuition is not, he says, is shooting from the hip or guessing. It’s based on knowledge.

As Ritcheske describes it, intuition combines experience and learning, enabling a leader to trust the inner voice that says “No” when all the facts say “Yes.” He quotes Kip Tindell, co-founder of The Container Store, one of whose principles is that “Intuition does not come to the unprepared mind.”

He credits Tindell with an analogy to fly-fishing: “I think I’m pretty good at it, and if I intuitively think a trout is under a rock and I cast over to it, there is probably a trout under the rock. The likelihood is that it’s there because I have read, I have experience and I’ve talked to others, and that’s now part of my informed intuition. But if you have never fly-fished before and you intuitively think there is a trout under the rock, there probably isn’t. You would just be making a wild guess.”

Business example: Jim Nicholson of PVS Chemicals was expanding his company through acquisitions and discovered pretty early on that the surprises after an acquisition are always negative. So now, if the numbers tell him a company is a good acquisition but his gut tells him something’s not right, he’ll go with his gut and say “No.” That’s because he knows he’ll find out what’s wrong only after the sale.

Cultivating your intuition can help you cut through information overload. Ritcheske gives these tips for developing a sixth sense:
  • Read more broadly.
  • Listen to people with different perspectives.
  • Expand and deepen your experience.
— Adapted from Taking Charge: Lessons in Leadership, Insight Publishing and Saga Worldwide; and The Founding Fish, John McPhee, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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