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May 22, 2017 Biz Books

Leveraging intuition to make smarter business decisions

“Put Your Intuition to Work — How to Supercharge Your Inner Wisdom to Think Fast and Make Great Decisions” by Lynn A. Robinson (Career Press, $15.99).

While data and facts lead decision-making criteria, in many situations (especially in smaller firms) there often isn't sufficient information to make time-sensitive decisions. Also, facts and data can't take into account “softer factors” like personalities and corporate cultures. Other times, you look at the information and you can't shake the feeling that it's “off.” When these instances arise, your intuition plays a major role in the decision.

Honing your intuitive process, just like developing any other skill, takes practice. Key among Robinson's intuition-development exercises is an “intuition journal.” At the beginning of each workday, write down your concerns, issues and challenges for the day. Use a separate page for each. Prioritize each page and begin writing down the answers to questions like: “What aren't the facts and data telling me?” “What more should I know about … ?” “Where can I find … ?” Write down or draw whatever comes to mind.

As each “page” comes up for discussion during the day, use your journal's information to frame your view of the situation; you can add the perspectives of others to your journal page as dialogue unfolds. Use this broader picture of the “page” to think about answers, as well as other questions.

The journal also provides a place for the “what if” ideas that randomly pop into your head. You'll find that writing them down increases the amount of such ideas because “what if” becomes part of your routine when looking at situations. Look at your “what if” page frequently; you'll find that what you've written has relevance at a future date.

The bottom line comes from a Justin Timberlake song: “I got this feeling inside my bones. It goes electric, wavy when I turn it on.” Once it's turned on, inner wisdom and intuitive focus grow.

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“Achieving Longevity — How Great Firms Prosper through Entrepreneurial Thinking” by Jim Dewald (University of Toronto Press, $32.95).

When an organization focuses on becoming efficient, management often overlooks the price paid for being too lean. That price involves the loss of resources (especially intellectual capital), which results in its inability to: 1. deliver something other than “one-size-fits-all” products/services, and 2. adapt to change. Such a narrow focus all but eliminates the innovation needed to grow.

Dewald points out that large organizations have in place (e.g. infrastructure, money, established brand, brainpower, distribution channels, customers, etc.) that would make any entrepreneur do a happy dance. To grow, an organization needs to develop a culture that allows employees to constantly use the resources they have at hand to explore doing things differently and doing different things.

By giving employees free rein to think about “what's next,” an organization really creates new value opportunities. Not all will pan out; the bummers still provide internal value because they are learning experiences.

His research found a cyclical model in firms whose longevity involved adapting to changing technology, markets, and the shift to globalization. The model has three “wash, rinse and repeat” cycles: 1. strategic exploitation of the current environment, 2. using internal entrepreneurship to fuel exploratory investigation of new markets, and 3. strategic exploitation of those new markets. Examples: 3M (1902) started as a mining company; GE (1892) started as a manufacturer of light bulbs; Avon (1886) went from selling books to providing an array of personal products.

Key takeaway: “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization's ability to learn faster than the competition.” — Peter M. Senge. Learning involves moving into new markets.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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