With an appreciation of these examples of intuition across the decision spectrum, we consider the wisdom source of knowing in more detail. Business academics recognize information and knowledge as decision inputs, but typically ignore wisdom. The same can be said for some managers. For both groups, remaining firmly rooted in conventional Western science is an easier course of action when faced with the mystery of knowing beyond experience.

Conscious Use of Intuition

Given the rational attitude fostered in business schools and traditional corporations, the relevance of intuition in the large has been viewed with skepticism. The intensifying complexity of the global challenge highlights the limitations of rational decision making that only relies on information and knowledge in preparing for the future. Fortunately, the wisdom of managers has always been at least an unconscious ingredient in decision making.

For the 21st century, managers must seek an integrated, flexible personal style where the wisdom of intuition in the large as well as the knowledge of intuition in the small complement rationality. Given business acceptance of rational analysis, we advocate the conscious use of intuition in the large to reach beyond personal experience to access wisdom as a source of knowing.

In a striking example of intuition in the large, the chief executive officer of a successful billion dollar corporation said:

After endless hours of consultation with analysts and advisors, we could not decide if the decision to merge with another player in our industry would benefit the company in the long run. In the end, I supported and advocated the move because it felt right . . . and something deep in my soul told me that this was the time.

The executive went on to clarify that although he could not rationally articulate a reason for pursuing the merger, his interaction with the management team and employees of the potential partner convinced him the companies were compatible on levels that transcended known decision factors. "It was a feeling . . . of their values, commitment, and energy." Drawing on wisdom, he evaluated the merger in a way that went beyond his personal experience.

The Intuitive Self

This example demonstrates that managers, like artists, have the wisdom of their soul to call on for decision guidance. We refer to this still, small voice of knowing available to everyone as "the intuitive self." Since the soul speaks from the eternal present, becoming aware of this voice requires a manager to attend to the moment rather than ruminate about the past or fantasize about the future.

Preoccupation with the past or obsession with the future short circuits our connection with the intuitive self. This does not mean that we ignore the past or neglect the future. Through the being of not-doing, the intuitive self responds to the past and moves into the future from its focused presence in the moment.

When managers do not attend to their intuitive selves, the soul expresses itself in metaphor through unconscious recurring themes. We noticed how one client, a software sales manager, frequently wore pins depicting elephants. She was not consciously aware of this habit until we mentioned it. When we pointed out the pattern, she recalled the many elephant nick knacks in her home and office.

But she did not know why so many elephant images were in her life. The intuitive self was trying to say something about her professional situation. But through inattention to the present moment, she was missing an insight about handling her responsibilities. She needed a period of self reflection to discover the wisdom implicit in the ever present elephant image metaphor.

The paradoxical character of the still, small voice of the soul inhibits a manager's acceptance of wisdom. Guidance from the intuitive self is not expressed in terms of right and wrong since wisdom may suggest "undesirable" actions. The input managers receive when they look to their soul for guidance is "appropriate" to a situation rather than necessarily "best" in economic terms. Decisions championed by the intuitive self may result in near term losses rather than profits since intuition does not guarantee "positive" outcomes.

This may include choices leading to business reversals that the soul knows are best in the long run. But the fact that using wisdom can lead to "undesirable" outcomes does not mean the intuitions are incorrect. For the intuitive self, there are no mistakes, only lessons to be learned. At a subtle level when a manager cooperates with the ebb and flow shaping their organization's direction in the web of connection, their decisions transcend rational objectives.

Complementary Ways of Knowing

In an attempt to comprehend these paradoxical qualities, intuition has been described as the polar yet complementary opposite of rationality. The rational self is linear, sequential, and analytic while the intuitive self is simultaneous, relational, and holistic. The idea of integrating the rational and intuitive selves transcends temporal, cultural, and academic boundaries.

Recognition of the complementary nature of intuition and rationality is found in the ancient traditions of East and West as well as contemporary scientific study in subject areas as diverse as physics, education, psychology, and philosophy. In Eastern philosophy, Taoism honors the receptive, intuitive yin and the active, rational yang ways of knowing. In Western thought, the Greek deities of Apollo and Dionysus, one symbolizing habitual restraint and the other spontaneous openness, also express these complementary ways of doing and being.

The importance of Apollonian, yang rationality for decision making is unquestioned. The systematic analysis implied in the use of information and knowledge helps to clearly identify decision issues and alternatives for addressing them. Originating in the techniques of scientific management, rationality has led to unprecedented economic progress and productivity.

In contrast to rationality, relatively little is known about Dionysian, yin intuition in general and even less about the subtle sense of intuition that transcends personal experience. Data systems and expert systems have become essential aids for acquiring and using information and knowledge. However as powerful as they are, these aids are not enough when knowing beyond experience is required to bridge the decision gap. Bridging the gap requires access to several forms and kinds of intuition.

Varieties of Intuition

Intuition is easier to characterize then define. Our work with managers has shown that intuitive experiences range over a variety of forms and kinds. Consequently, we prefer to leave the concept open ended to avoid excluding subtle, yet crucial, dimensions of an individual's unique intuitive style. With regard to form, at the physical level, the intuition can come as a body movement, a physical sensation, or as an emotional sense to pull away from or draw near something.

Mentally it can occur as a thought that states or as a visual image that represents a distinct knowing. Finally the insight can have a quality that transcends the other forms. With regard to kind, the intuition can come as a specific course of action to take, a general solution to a perplexing problem, a suggestion to follow up on a situation, an impulse to do something for reasons not yet comprehended, a sixth-sense perception that something is going to happen, or an understanding of a deeper meaning hidden in a situation.

As managers explore their intuitive experiences, they extend their range in terms of form and kind. To place both in context, the dictionary defines intuition as, (a) the process of coming to or the faculty of attaining direct knowledge without reasoning or inferring, (b) an immediate cognizance or conviction without rational thought, (c) a revelation by insight or innate knowledge, and (d) an immediate apprehension or cognition. Intuition in the business context was first defined as a non-reasoning process by Chester Barnard, the former President of New Jersey Bell Telephone, over six decades ago:

. . . not capable of being expressed in words or as reasoning. . . . The sources of these non-logical processes lie in . . . the physical and social environment, mostly impressed on us . . . without conscious effort on our part. They also consist of the mass of facts . . . and generally what we call formal knowledge . . . impressed upon our minds more or less by conscious effort and study.

The spirit of these definitions, studies of intuition in business, as well as vigorous interest in the popular press underscore the significance of intuition across the decision- making spectrum. Helping managers bring their intuitive experience to conscious awareness and our interviews with executives reveal that all forms and kinds of intuition are important in closing the gap between what is known and needed for decisions. [Follow the link "Discovering and Understanding Intuition" for a PDF of the article published in Exceptional Human Experience to learn how a broad range of intuition definitions provides a rationale for a comprehensive journaling protocol. Returning to this page after accessing the PDF depends on how your browser is configured.]

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