Several years ago while driving in a snowstorm, Sean Castrina passed a rundown office building. On a hunch, he decided to turn his car around and take a closer look.
“Something told me that buying the building would prove a game changer for my business, even though it would mean paying considerably more for office space,” says Castrina, a serial entrepreneur, business coach and author of 8 Unbreakable Rules to Business Start-Up Success. Castrina’s hunch paid off. The building ended up providing such great visibility that business increased exponentially.
When it comes to making key decisions and implementing change, successful small-business owners know that analyzing the facts and figures can only take them so far. While face-value information does help, at the end of the day, they rely on their gut reactions to guide them.
A Leap of Faith
Talk to successful entrepreneurs, and you’ll hear many stories of inventions and discoveries and even whole companies born of intuitive leaps. Take for example small-business owner Tara Stoutenborough, who opened Strategies, A Marketing Communications Corporation in 1991 with her partner Linda White.
“Guided by our intuition, we walked out the door of our former agency, set up an office with a relatively small investment and agreed we could only afford to work for three months for free, even though the rule of thumb is to expect no salary for nine months to a year,” she says. “The business came in, and three months later we paid ourselves a salary and never looked back.”
Sixth Sense: On Target, Yet Often Ignored
Despite the sixth sense often being accurate, many small-business owners discount instincts in favor of more concrete facts and figures.
“We’ve been taught that if something can’t be supported by research, it must not be true,” Stoutenborough says. “Nonsense. Every day, I see programs and ideas ‘working’ before the statistics prove it or even when nothing can prove it. Good results often come from many nearly microscopic factors that measuring them accurately is virtually impossible.”
Although Marcy Hogan has always used intuition in her personal life, it wasn’t until recently when she opened up her latest business that she began listening to her inner voice. “I thought that logic was more businesslike, and I was afraid that people wouldn't take me seriously if I relied on my hunches," Hogan says. “Then my husband, Brian, and I listened to our intuition and opened Send Out Cards, soon discovering that our hunch paid off.”
Logical thought often trumps intuition in the business world, agrees David Wimer, a business advisor and author of INSIGHT: Business Advice in an Age of Complexity. “The western culture tends to stress the ability to explain why we do everything we do,” he says. “We learn that the best (i.e., safest) choices are those that can be explained. We call this being 'rational,' and it breeds a fear of making a mistake and feeling foolish.”
Analyzing and researching can take you a long way, but you ultimately must “go with your gut,” Stoutenborough says. “If the resume looks good, but the person you’re considering hiring doesn’t feel like a fit, or the partnership you’re considering entering bothers you on some indescribable level, stop or you’ll proceed at your own peril.”
Castrina always listens to intuition when choosing employees. “Instinct is critical in dealing with a person you barely know,” he says. “I can’t count the number of times I met a prospective employee and knew the person had potential; likewise, alarm bells go off when the fit isn’t right.”
Tapping Into Your Intuition
If you understand where intuition comes from, it makes it easier to trust and access it. “Intuition is the unconscious mind letting us know what is going on, but we don’t think it, we feel it, and we just know,” Wimer says. “That knowing is based on experience and practice, not some mystical capacity.”
Creativity comes from a part of the mind that isn’t delineated by language, agrees Stoutenborough. “Ideas literally pop into your rational mind, and you can’t explain them. They come from that place backed by a healthy dose of experience and life wisdom. We know. We may not be able to explain how we know, but we do.”
To tap your intuition, Hogan suggests mind-expanding activities that encourage reflection and contemplation, like journaling, meditation, deep breathing exercises and engaging in creative activities. “When you take a break from your routine and create, your mind becomes more open and that helps cultivate intuitive thoughts and feelings,” she says.
To access those intuitive thoughts that are sure to increase business, you need to respect the process, Stoutenborough says. “Get over the idea that it’s airy-fairy. Intuition is as much a part of the brain as logic. You can inspire your intuition by cramming as much pertinent data into your brain as possible. Read the resume and do the background check, but then sit quietly and close your eyes for a couple of minutes. Your analytical brain will relax, allowing your intuitive mind to pop through. See what it has to say.”
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