The Blog

How to Develop Your Intuition in Business and in Life

In the interest of having some guidelines about how to develop and apply intuition in a business setting, here is a quick primer on what intuition is, how to sharpen it and when to use it.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

In an online world dominated by analytics, you may be relieved to know that one of the most important social media tools at your disposal is your intuition. It is especially important in creating a vibrant network presence, where half the battle is separating the wheat from the chaff among the new marketing tools popping up daily.

Intuition is one of those skills that everyone uses, but hardly anyone mentions. Sometimes called a "hunch," or a "gut feeling," it teeters on the brink of being too "woo" to discuss in the presence of business associates. So in the interest of having some guidelines about how to develop and apply intuition in a business setting, here is a quick primer on what intuition is, how to sharpen it and when to use it.

Our eyes and brain register far more details in normal conversation than our minds consciously perceive. Much of the input -- a cascade of lightning-quick changes in facial expressions, subtle shifts in body language and other verbal and non-verbal cues -- escapes our conscious awareness, but is retained subconsciously. Intuition can be thought of as the process by which these subtle perceptions create a "hunch" that influences our opinions and actions.

Another way I like to think of intuition is the ability to recognize patterns. People are said to have an intuitive grasp of a subject when within moments they can summarize a bunch of new material and have a three-point plan for what to do about it. This is possible because behind the scenes their minds quickly piece together patterns from previous experiences, creating associations with the new information that allow a bigger picture to emerge.

We often use intuition to make decisions when all the facts are not clear. It is known as leadership when accurate intuitions lead to effective, prescient moves; it is known as folly when our hunches are so far off the mark that we take ineffective or inappropriate actions. So, how do we get better at something that is not a conscious process? The most important first step is to start trusting your hunches when you have them.

Too often, we second-guess our intuition and end up regretting it in the end. In the interest of developing your native intuitive ability, try "trusting your gut" next time and see what happens. If the results are positive, that is all the more reason to trust it the next time, too. If it ends up not being the best move, see if you can isolate what went wrong by listing all of the subtle cues you can recall, and all of the pattern pieces you put together to form your intuitive hunch.

Sometimes we have overriding emotional reactions to particular cues that derail what would otherwise be a solid hunch. Acknowledge what went right first, and learn from your mistakes by filtering out those misleading reactions next time to build greater accuracy. Only by affirming our correct hunches and fine-tuning the rest will we sharpen our perceptions and create even more reliable intuitions in the future.

This is a key point when it comes to making decisions about social media tools, or any business arena where there is exponential growth and a lot of hype. All the excitement can lead to a sense of fear -- of not being on the bandwagon fast enough, of getting left behind, of not being able to understand it all, etc. And fear is the number one emotional reaction that clouds our intuition and prevents us from making good decisions.

Once we filter out the fear, we allow that full cascade of impressions to be sifted through unhindered. We may find that we need more information before making a decision, or that we're drawn to different tools in the end than we were at first. Whatever direction our resulting hunches lead us in, by trusting and refining the intuitive process they will be much more likely to result in a vibrant, successful business strategy.


This article was originally published at Creative Content Coaching. Read the CCC blog by subscription on your Kindle.