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The Intuitive Mind

Here’s an extract from an interesting Article in “People Management” magazine, by Eugene Sadler-Smith, Author of The Intuitive Mind

“By its very nature, intuition is something that’s difficult to put your finger on.  But, although it’s hard to describe, pinning it down as a particular, learnt expertise will allow you to reap tangible rewards.”

“Many leaders and managers believe that their intuition – often described as “gut instinct” – is indispensable when making business decisions.  But, while the anecdotes of the likes of Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson, Apple’s Steve Jobs or former GE boss Jack Welch can be compelling, harder evidence is needed.”

“What exactly is intuition, how does it work – and can it be developed?”

“The consensus among researchers is that intuition is:

  • Uninvited and instant: it’s an automatic involuntary response to complex problems and decisions.
  • Affective: it’s accompanied by gut feelings of varying levels of intensity.
  • Holistic: It allows us to “parallel process” information quickly and efficiently, and to see the bigger picture.
  • Non-conscious: we’re aware only of the outcomes of intuition.  The process occurs “backstage” and is therefore non-conscious.
  • Potentially powerful and perilous: In the right hands, intuition can be a powerful way to handle complex problems under time pressure, in the wrong hands, it can be ineffective and even dangerous.”

“Intuition can be understood in terms of a “two minds” model: we have two minds – one analytical, the other intuitive – in one brain.  This isn’t the same as the  old idea of the split brain, which has intuition and creativity housed in the right hemisphere and analysis and rationality in the left one.  Modern neuroscience paints a far more complex picture of the neural geography of human thinking.  The dual-processing capacity that comes with having two minds gives us the potential to be cognitively ambidextrous i.e. to solve problems and make decisions using analysis or intuition depending on the situation.  Neither mind is intrinsically better than the other: they’re both good at different sorts of things.”

…”Intuitive experts aren’t born, they’re made …

… “recognising gut feelings as a valid source of data means not mixing them up with basic emotions and also learning how to put a brake on the personal prejudices, biases and wishful thinking that can hijack good intuitive judgement”.

…”It’s important to remember that the intuitive mind is at its most powerful when used in combination with its analytical counterpart.  Microsoft’s Bill Gates said in a recent interview with CNN: “If I think something is going to catch on, I trust my own intuition”.  Crucially, he also acknowledged that intuition can be “often wrong, but my batting record is good enough that I keep swinging every time the ball is thrown”…

…”The basis of the “two minds” model is that the intuitive mind and the analytical mind both have vital roles to play in thinking, judging, deciding and problem-solving.”


I have recently re-read “The Intuitive Mind” and was fascinated by some research about “cognitive ambidexterity” which indicates that the entrepreneurs (who were part of the US-based study) had “seemingly balanced the intuitive and the analytical modes” preferring to “rely on their intuitive and analytical minds in roughly equal measure”.


Eugene Sadler-Smith is professor of management development and organisational behaviour at the University of Surrey’s School of Management and author of Inside Intuition (Routledge 2008) and The Intuitive Mind (Wiley, 2010)

Comments on: "The Intuitive Mind" (2)

  1. This is a reminder to myself to look into the research into cognitive ambidexterity, referred to in The Intutive Mind (pgs 62-63).

    “Researchers in the USA compared the thinking styles of entrepreneurs with those of two other very different and contrasting groups, actors and accountants. The entrepreneurs weren’t novices, on average they had around thirteen years of experience as founders of businesses. The researchers looked at how the three groups compared in terms of their scores on creative/intuitive thinking versus linear/analytical thinking test (shown here as a score out of 100).”

    Accountants – Linear/Analytical 82% -v- Creative/Intuitive 54%
    Actors- Linear/Analytical 51% -v- Creative/Intuitive 80%
    Entrepreneurs- Linear/Analytical 72% -v- Creative/Intuitive 67%

    “The cognitive profiles of the entrepreneurs were more balanced … than the accountants who were highly analytical or the actors who were highly intuitive. The entrepreneurs in this study had seemingly balanced the intuitive and the analytical modes.”

    Sources of the above research: Groves, Vance, Choi and Mendez 2008.
    An examination of the non-linear thinking style profile stereotype of successful entrepreneurs, Journal of Enterprising Culture, 16(2): 133-59

  2. Journal of Enterprising Culture



    This study begins to empirically examine whether successful entrepreneurs possess a high nonlinear (e.g., creative, intuitive) thinking style, as some researchers and popular stereotypes of entrepreneurs would suggest, or whether they possess a more balanced nonlinear and linear (e.g., rational, logical, analytic) thinking style. As predicted, 48 successful entrepreneurs reflected a much greater level of balance in linear/nonlinear thinking style than their professional actor (n = 33) (predominantly nonlinear) and accountant (n = 31) (predominantly linear) counterparts, as measured by a linear/nonlinear thinking style instrument. Implications are discussed for guiding future cognitive research and theory development in entrepreneurship, as well as providing direction to entrepreneurship education and training.

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