science of work

Why you should trust your instincts at work

Most employees and organizations can readily identify problems. They instinctually or factually understand how internal processes or functions are either dysfunctional or inefficient.

But most of this understanding devolves into long-winded discussions by disgruntled employees or rants by managers at meetings. Decisions often are delayed or otherwise made in haste — and are oftentimes incorrect.

Wrapping effort around improvements within your company can be difficult when the employees are either dismissed as non-contributors or when the leaders within the organization are not open to the concept of brainstorming.

So what can managers and employees alike do to improve the decision-making process and ensure that decisions are tied to improved business productivity and profitability?

For one: listen to your gut instinct.

A great deal of information is stored in our subconscious. In moments of decision-making, our bodies provide clues to answers through feelings or gut reactions (for a fascinating book on this subject, see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink). Tune into your intuition — your decisions will be sounder.

Everyone has those moments when the answer just seems to magically pop into your head or the solution becomes obvious. The same can be said for change and innovation. Often, individuals just seem to know when something is off, or alternatively when a solution is obvious.

So why is this instinct so often ignored? Why do teams revert back to old ideas and behaviors so readily?

As verified in research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland in his article “Beyond the Echo Chamber,” I believe much of this has to do with the second-guessing of our own (or others’) instinctual decisions.

There are two main reasons we don’t trust our instincts.

1. We let experts sway our opinion

Within an organization, often a handful of individuals are viewed as the “experts” and are the only ones either allowed to or considered capable of making decisions.

Experts, authority figures, and tenured employees tend to sway opinion. Those without this status tend to be undervalued and often do not speak up.

When making decisions, it is best to remove any value judgments with regard to information. Non-status groups, such as newer or younger employees or even those unfamiliar with the system, can often provide a unique and valuable perspective.

Make sure not to discount information that may come from a non-traditional source. In business, these sources and ideas can often be game-changers.

2. We rely on personal prejudice

We frequently only hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. If you have expectations or biases, this will influence the outcome.

Be aware of your own prejudices, and stay open to unexpected sources and content. The older we become, the more we think we know. It is easy to believe that due to our experience, we have seen what there is to see, or that we have already tried all of the new ideas and concepts at one time or another

An employee may think “how can I know the answer when the expert says otherwise? How is his idea any good if I have experienced only the opposite?

These types of internal dialogues are common among employees who are either dismissed as non-contributors or by leaders that are typically not open to the concept that brainstorming atypical ideas can actually be a good thing, that inviting people outside of your expected network can add value to the discussion.

What you can do about it

The next time someone blurts out one of those a-ha moments, listen. Take notes. Vet the idea, not the person offering it.

The composition of the teams that will tackle your problems is absolutely critical to your success. Make sure you have considered whether those individuals or teams making decisions consists only of experts, or those with over or under estimated value or personal prejudice. If it is, you are missing out on the possibility of exponential change for the good.

Invite both the experts and the inexperienced, the ancillary, the vested, the customer, the manufacturer, the consultant, the boss — anyone who can add value to the discussion.

Innovation and improvement is about ideas, not just process. Assemble accordingly.

Dorriah L. Rogers, Ph.D, is a consultant who specializes in identifying and solving issues affecting efficiency, productivity, and profitability, and the author of Decide to Profit: 9 Steps to a Better Bottom Line.