Some of the strangest decisions I have ever made worked out well. Last year I placed a £200 bet on Donald Trump to win the US presidential election. This was strange for several reasons. I very rarely gamble and if I do it’s for a small amount – no more than £10. I don’t agree with Trump or his policies. I don’t even follow American politics in any depth. Everyone was saying he wouldn’t get in. But the strangest thing about the decision to place a bet was I didn’t have a logical reason why I did it. I had a strong gut feel that this would be a winning bet.
Gut feeling is the essential ingredient to tackling tough decisions. This gut impulse has got me out of getting beatings on inner city streets as a youth. It’s lead to last minute purchases which turned out to be great. Often times it has told me to hold back on taking action, even when I’m thinking “what the hell, let’s give a go”. There are many times I’ve acted against my gut and the results have not been the best. Saying yes to that project that looked good on paper. Trusting that estate agent.
Ain’t this just woo-woo?
Is this talk of gut feeling all woo-woo? Not if you believe the scientific literature. Trusting the gut is a powerful element of great decision making. Great financial traders rely more on their gut than average ones1. People who use gut feel rather than deliberation make happier purchasing decisions2. Even the business literature has a panoply of tales where CEOs trust their gut and emotions, going against the advice of cold hard analysis, to deliver successful projects3. Science is now finding that intelligence doesn’t just emanate from the mind. The body and mind act together in perceiving and driving decisions. Emotions, feelings and bodily processes we aren’t aware of determine what we do more than logic4.
Should you hang up the thinking cap?
Gut feel isn’t perfect. It’s a flesh and blood algorithm. It gives a best estimate based on what you’ve experienced and what’s happening now. Cultural and upbringing biases can sway you to bad gut decisions. This said, I do believe it’s a powerful skill that can be refined with experience. Analysis does have its place. You definitely want to do your due diligence on a major investment regardless of what your gut is saying. But if your gut is screaming ‘NO’ from the outset, maybe you should listen.
- http://www.nature.com/articles/srep32986 ‘Interoceptive Ability Predicts Survival on a London Trading Floor’
- https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/36/1/39/1844674/The-Devil-Is-in-the-Deliberation-Thinking-Too-Much?redirectedFrom=fulltext ‘The Devil Is in the Deliberation: Thinking Too Much Reduces Preference Consistency’
- http://18.104.22.168/boundary/complex_decision_making_and_ethics/Trust_your_gut.pdf ‘When to Trust your Gut’
- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Intelligence-Flesh-Your-Needs-Thinks-ebook/dp/B01344K3O6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504447722&sr=1-1&keywords=intelligence+in+the+flesh ‘Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More Than It Thinks’