There’s no doubt that technology has, in so many ways, transformed our lives and the way we do business. It has given us access to endless information, research and advice. Google “how to…” and it will come up with endless results on pretty much every topic you can think of, but as useful as data can be, it pays no attention to basic human instincts, which can be more powerful and important when it comes to making business decisions.
So what do we mean by instincts or gut feeling?
Lets go back to the cavemen days before we developed the fully-functioning frontal lobes in our brain that are responsible for problem solving, memory, judgement and impulse control, amongst other things. In those days, our ability to survive was entirely down to gut reactions which were prompted by a collection of subconscious experiences that told us, for example, not eat that poisonous berry because two years ago someone found a dead animal under the tree.
In Fast Company, Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behaviour at Hunter College, explains:
[The gut] holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready.
This was crucial to the cavemen in life death situations and whilst our decisions we make day to day in business usually aren’t quite as serious, we shouldn’t undervalue the power of our unconscious mind.
Information is still important
That’s not to say that entrepreneurs or CEOs should rely entirely on their gut without putting in any background work. Those instincts only work if you’ve done your homework, immersed yourself in your market and have taken time to properly get to know your audience or customer. You have to nourish your mind for it function at its best; read articles, pay attention to statistics and speak to clients. This is especially important when you’re starting a business.
There comes a point when you need to leave behind the analysis and drive your company forward, otherwise you’ll end up stagnating whilst your competitors race ahead. There’s nothing more important in business than constant progression, and not just for the growth of your organisation, but for your morale as an entrepreneur. You need to be excited about your journey so that you can maintain the energy to keep going.
There’s a fantastic e-corner podcast by the Sequoia Capital Chairman, Michael Moritz where he talks about choosing ideas to invest in and always seeking people who are obsessed with what they do, who live and breathe it without distraction. In other words, he’s looking for the entrepreneurs who are so consumed by their industry that it’s become an essential part of who they are.
According to a Moritz’s observations active obsession is “a characteristic of most successful entrepreneurs.” Why? Because passion is essential to business growth and longevity. Plus when you’re genuinely interested in a topic, you’re more likely to absorb information and learn at a faster rate, which is good news when it comes to sharpening your instincts.
But what about age? Do you need to wait for your instincts to grow before you trust them?
I started my first business, GVI at the age of 21 with no previous experience. All I had to rely on was my enthusiasm and belief in what I was doing, in other words, my gut. I’m not a scientific person, I’ve always struggled with analysing data and I’m too impatient to wait so I tend to make decisions very quickly, which most of the time (so far) has worked out for the best. I trust my instincts to recall everything I’ve absorbed over my life to make an informed decision in less than a second.
Naturally the older you get the more information your gut has access to, but it can’t be just any old information, it has to be specific and relevant. For example, a 22 year old working in pharmaceuticals will have more experience than me in that particularly industry and so is better prepared to go with their gut feeling in that area.
George Deeb’s research into the ages of various successful entrepreneurs in his article for Forbes suggests that age, for the most part, is irrelevant: “Facebook (20), Microsoft (20), Apple (21), Google (25), Twitter (30), Amazon (30), Tesla (34), Oracle (35), Netflix (37), Zynga (41), Walmart (44) and McDonald’s (53).” He goes further to say that “smart entrepreneurs that lack experience, can offset that by surrounding themselves with experienced mentors.” So in other words, you could enlist the help of someone’s else’s instincts if yours aren’t quite ready to make the decision.
What it really comes down to honing your instincts over time by reading as much as you can, surrounding yourself with people in the industry, attending talks, and ultimately, just getting on with it. You might make mistakes, but that’s how you learn and next time your instincts will know exactly which way to lead you without you even having to ask.