The blog post Why Downturns are the Best Times by Katie Mehnert struck a chord with me. The whole thing about doing things which the majority of people are not doing, got me thinking about the power of intuition. "Knowing" something without being able to explain how you came to that conclusion rationally is fascinating and, in my view, too often dismissed. As Albert Einstein said "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I think he had a point.
When I told my friends and family I was investing in a trip to Houston and New Orleans in the spring to meet a bunch of women in the energy sector they thought I was mad. I was travelling from the UK so the price ticket was not insignificant.
But I knew that it would be worth it. I could't quantify the desired outcome, but my gut was telling me to go for it.
From a rational point of view, I guess, my friends had a case:
- Companies are only spending on what's urgent and absolutely necessary, and that doesn't include leadership development. For the oil and gas sector the situation is arguably even worse.
- There's a big opportunity cost spending nearly two weeks away from your business, including a loss of earnings.
- You don't have a plan detailing exactly what you return on investment will be.
- Why would people in Texas and Louisiana be interested in a leadership specialist from England - surely they have plenty of their own ?
However, through getting to know women like Katie Mehnert, Kimberly Wilson and Heather Gillbanks - all people who understand the power of social and tend not to accept the status quo - I knew deep down that there were many powerful conversations to be had. I knew that showing up and listening to people's stories would be very valuable.
My instinct proved right and what I discovered in the many conversations I had during the trip was that, in times of uncertainty, there is more room for creativity, not less:
- I found out from Kate Lumley that currently customers and potential customers are more willing explore innovative win:win collaborative partnerships: the phone is not ringing off the hook and an appetite to secure discounts makes them amenable to dialogue. If you take the time to genuinely ask them what is important and then properly listen to what they are saying (at which Kate is very skilled), fruitful opportunities can open up.
- There is a willingness to stand back and really look at whether tried and tested solutions still meet the needs of the business. I had a number of conversations around the changing skillsets that are now required to lead virtual teams successfully, and how that can be achieved in a much more agile and cost-effective way.
- The fact that I am from the UK, or more significantly not from the US, was by and large seen as a benefit: leaders, especially medium sized companies in the supply chain, and relatively new into the global marketplace, were curious about how to bridge cultural divides with employees and customers
I achieved what my gut told me I would: all of the above plus new lifetime friends with whom I talk often and share new ideas; conversations which have resulted in new business, with the prospect of more to come; and a lot of fun!
So how do you develop this intuition muscle? There's no one-size-fits-all, but here's my take on it:
- Recognize the power of intuition and what’s going on: in essence it is how you quickly tap into your subconscious mind to access all kinds of information that you don't remember on a conscious level. Just because you can’t articulate it, it doesn’t mean it’s not important.
- If you ignore intuition, you're no different than a computer. There is a fundamental flaw if you make decisions based only on facts, because you don't always have all the facts.
- Even some of the greatest scientists through time have made their greatest discoveries based on flashes of intuition e.g. Newton and the apple that fell on his head, and Archimedes crying out "Eureka!" in his bathtub.
- Listen to your gut, literally. Often, a decision that you "know" is wrong makes you feel discomfort in your stomach area. This is because, embedded in the wall of the gut is the enteric nervous system (sometimes dubbed our second brain) which plays an important role in our physical and mental well-being and helps you evaluate environmental opportunities and threats, and then influences your response.
Where has your intuition worked for you? I'd love to know!