Five Ways to Put Intuition to Work

“It’s difficult writing a cookbook with someone who is not an intuitive cook. It’s like making love to a German.” This line is uttered by Julia Child’s French co-author, Simone “Simca” Beck, who is exasperated by Julia’s sense of exactitude. Simca prefers, as she says, “je ne sais quoi.”

The line, which is said in the new HBO series, Julia, is played for comedic effect, but it does get to the heart of why we sometimes struggle. It may because we value methodology over our intuition.

Julia Child herself was a gourmet cook, but it was something she worked hard to master. Like her husband, Paul, she worked in the OSS—the precursor to the CIA. Post-War, Paul transitioned to the State Department and was stationed in Paris, where Julia attended the Cordon Bleu School. Eventually, she wrote a book, Mastering the Art of French CookingThe title implies that cooking is not always precise; there is an art to it. The art emerges from experience and, in time, intuition about how to do it better.

Art of management

There is an art to management as there is to leadership, too. Management is the practice of administration; leadership is the art of inspiration. Good managers practice both. They care for their teams by putting people into positions where they can succeed. Experienced managers have a feel about how things should work, and they share their understanding and intuition with others.

Intuition in business comes from seeing things that others do not. For example, one CEO I worked with had the uncanny knack of looking at a spreadsheet and opportunities where others did not. His insights came from his understanding of business and intuition, which lent him the ability to sift peril from potential as the resolve to act. Was he always right? Of course not. But correct enough to grow his business substantially.

So how do the rest of us maximize our management intuition? 

Learn the game. Know your market and how your business serves the customers. Find out what your customers not just want but desire to use or own. Think a step ahead.

Study “the chessboard.” Know the game you are playing. Too often, we are so close to the action that we cannot see the knights from the bishops or the king from the queen. This perspective means you see your competitors, but you fail to understand their intentions. 

Trust your gut. Pull the trigger. Second-guessing yourself is your prep. Decide and move quickly.

Fail fast. If circumstances change, be ready to act again. Surround yourself with people you can trust. These are the people who can tell you when you are wrong, even when you do not want to listen. Respect them enough to pay attention to what they say.

What it takes to lead

“Management is about arranging and telling,” best-selling author and management theorist Tom Peters wrote. “Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” Managers get their ducks lined up and then encourage them to fly. 

However, neither can happen without an intuitive sense of how organizations work and how people in them respond to stimuli. Intuition and discipline, therefore, go hand in hand.

First posted on 4.18.2022