Are Your Instincts Helping or Hurting Your Business?


Do you trust your instincts? Would you pursue a strategic course that felt right in your gut, even in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary? Here are a few somewhat random thoughts about the pros and cons of relying on instincts to run a business.

Following your instincts eliminates second thoughts, which in and of themselves can derail an initiative — to say nothing of keeping you up at night. It’s hard to move forward decisively and in a straight line if you’re looking over your shoulder.

Strong convictions of the type I just mentioned can become negative if they turn into pure stubbornness. How long do you stick with a plan that feels right but isn’t delivering results? It’s hard to change course if you’re wearing blinders.

Breakthrough ideas often defy reason. They don’t line up with the available data. Instincts, which are based on our unique experience and our unique personality, have the capacity to take a business to the next level, to zig when they zag.

Then again, because instinct has a uniqueness to it, it can take you down a uniquely bad path as well as a uniquely good one. This may be why it’s so difficult to translate success in one line of business to another. For instance, the experiences that make a sales person great may also make him or her a very poor sales manager.

Leaders who set course by instinct must be highly effective communicators. It’s easy to explain business decisions that are based on data, but hard to explain ones based on a feeling or a theory. Even if the plan is correct, it will get botched if the team doesn’t understand it.

How heavily do you rely on instinct to run your business? Do you think you need to rely on instinct more … or less?

About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr has more than 25 years of B2B experience in the packaging industry. He is a writer, blogger and content marketing specialist who has been active in social media since 2005. Connect with Brad on Twitter: @bradshorr.

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4 Comments to “Are Your Instincts Helping or Hurting Your Business?”

  1. J.C. Kendall says:

    I guess it comes down to skill vs experience. Knowing when to change strategies depends on being able to properly evaluate all of the information and analytics available towards making the proper decision. I would argue that most businesses are doing one or the other extreme, in that they either run purely on instinct, or they lean way too much towards what they learned in B-school, and use formulas that tell them things should be working, whether they actually are working or not.

    • Brad Shorr says:

      J.C., I also see those extremes on a regular basis. Many people see operating on what they learned in B-school as “safe,” but in actuality it can be dangerous. When I went off to college, my father, a very successful businessman, told me to study everything except business, because you’ll have plenty of time to learn that on the job. I’ve always thought that was great advice. Studying other things broadens your perspective and helps you evaluate information — the skill you correctly point out that is so important to making good decisions. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Heidi Thorne says:

    The difficulty is trying to interpret those gut feelings and instincts one feels… and knowing when to act on them or let them go. I think small business owners and entrepreneurs are more prone to relying and acting on instinct than corporate B2B pros because they have the flexibility and ability to make quick decisions.

    • Heidi, that’s a very insightful observation. I wonder if that flexibility is a blessing or a curse. Having all that freedom to maneuver can fill a person with doubt, or frustrate them when things get in the way of a course of action they are emotionally committed to. Now that I think about it, many small business consultants I know are part business expert and part psychologist. This makes total sense, since their clients are operating on a combination of instinct and intellect.