Power Hunches
If you're looking for a hunch
on how it's done, read on.

By Marcia Emery
published by Hemispheres Magazine on December, 1995

The secret is out. In business, intuition is beginning to be recognized as an important strategic-planning tool for the 21st century. Intuition is no longer seen as a special gift bestowed upon a chosen few. It enables the executive to grasp an intuitive solution during a slow period, a bleak time, or in the face of a changing economy. Intuition is the power that fuels, feeds, and ignites your vision. Intuition is a spark that leads to success.

The hunch, gut feeling, judgment call, sudden insight, or flash out of the blue are all evidence of intuition, a sixth sense that can generate correct decisions even before all the facts are in. In this information age, we need to hone our intuitive skills just to process the voluminous data.

Hundreds of top-level executives integrate intuition with logic in decision-making to catapult their companies to the leading edge of their respective industries. You may not hear anyone say out loud that "my intuition told me" to build a new facility, hire a particular candidate, adopt a radical marketing campaign, start a company, or even risk a merger. Listen closely, though, and you may hear mention of a hunch, gut feeling, or making a judgment call before taking such a risk. None disregarded the logic or facts and figures, but each used intuitive input when needed to buttress the facts and figures of a complex situation. They confidently listened to the intuitive voice in order to remain open to new possibilities, even though they may not have attached the intuitive label to the process.

Intuition has successfully bridged the gap between cultures where different interpretation or words are used to communicate the ideas. When John Brockman, an executive in international sales, receives a telex from Taiwan, he knows it is not going to be expressed in the same English that is used in the United States. He has to tap his intuition to make assumptions and go beyond the apparent facts to determine what the message really means. If a sales manager in Taiwan tells Brockman he is facing a crisis, the situation may not be articulated clearly. Brockman needs to "read between the lines," relying upon intuition about what the manager really needs to do.

Whatever words you use to characterize the mind's imaginative leap, many rely on intuition when they take unprecedented risks. Intuition can come as a flash or as a flow of ideas, each one sparkling the next until you have an explosion of innovative thoughts and actions. I doubt if Paul Fireman realized he was putting on his intuitive hat when he decided to purchase the rights to an unknown British trademark called Reebok and began manufacturing "aerobic" shoes under that name. At that time, the "aerobic exercise" boom was nonexistent, and the small pockets of activity could hardly foretell what was to come. In addition, the "aerobic" shoe was being manufactured with garment leather, which was much softer that the traditional leather used in tennis shoes. It was questionable whether this leather was strong enough to keep the toes from popping through during intense exercise. A finely tuned intuitive sense helped Fireman pick up on the whispered beginnings of a major trend. The risky decision he made is one of the remarkable success stories of recent times. Basically, it all began as a hunch.

Intuition has been a powerful tool in helping the executive to innovate, create, and sail into proverbial uncharted waters. Many such breakthroughs could not have occured without input from the intuitive mind.

Frequently, an intuitive flash will reveal a new approach or solution to a problem. Anyone with a sweet tooth will enjoy the example of Mrs. Fields Cookies. When customers failed to appear the day Debbie Fields opened her first store, a flash of intuition prompted her to grab a cookie sheet filled with cookie, walk down the street, and offer free samples to anyone she met. Almost instantly her store was filled with patrons. Now, 17 years later, the success of that first store has multiplied to 600 stores scattered throughout the United States and five other countries.

Jim Adamson, now the CEO of Burger King, talks about his experience in the clothing business, where intuition is used to predict customer behavior. "Early in my career, when I was with GAP, I was on a buying trip in the Far East. I picked out GAP's first imported jeans, and I bought far more than the numbers said. To make a long story short, when they arrived, they sold out in less than 30 days. I thought I had bought a four-month supply. I had made a good decision on style and overbought based on my intuition. I just didn't know how good my intuition was."

Dan Henslee, President of Hekman Furniture in Grand Rapids, Michigan, knows firsthand how effective a hunch can be. When he came upon the latest census figures showing that the projected number of people working from their homes in the 1980's and '90s would increase, his intuitive mind sparked a vision of an office in every home. Introducing the concept of manufacturing residential desks to his board of directors was risky for Henslee since residential desks were not doing well at that time, but his hunch turned out to be so successful and profitable for the company that it placed an awesome burden on their manufacturing capabilities. Hekman introduced 11 desk models and sold almost five times what his projections were.

How can you keep the intuitive battery charged and consistently reliable? Any of the following techniques will help. And don't worry that they might seem a little airy. Intuition may not be quantifiable, but nearly everyone agrees there is something to it. At least give it a try.

The value of intuition is becoming more and more apparent, gaining respect as the silent but vital partner in any decision-making process. It is no longer a well-kept secret as successful business people attest that intuition is increasly acknowledged as a strategic business tool for the 21st century.

Marcia Emery, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, and lecturer who has been teaching people how to cultivate their intuition for decades.

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