25 Mar 2011

Is an Instinctive Decision Really Instinctive?

I was watching a MOTOGP race with my friend one evening, and one rider made a move to pass the other. Before we could see what happened next, I blurted “No! He’s gonna run wide!” And he did! This was not the first time I was making such a call (and I have at least an 85% accuracy record when I do). My friend asked me how I could judge such things even better than the commentators, and my reply was the clich├ęd “Gut Feeling!” However, that night I sat wondering how I developed this gut feeling. Or for that matter, how do most people who instinctively make the right decision manage to do it? Top – level managers of MNCs, team bosses & engineers of successful racing teams, good traders on the stock market, the Joker from The Dark Knight; how are they blessed with the power to make these snap judgements and still have the advantage over millions who may take ages to do the same with much more information at hand? How can one automobile fanatic differentiate between two BMWs while the other is all at sea? How can one see 2 – 5 minutes of their favourite TV serial and predict how it’s going to end? Why are Warren Buffett’s “gut feelings” so much more profitable than 99% of the other investors? Try and find similar examples in your daily lives; I am sure you’ll find enough. Is a “gut feeling” really just that much or is there more to it?

We all have opinions and intuitions; being Indians we probably have a few more than needed. But how often are those correct and accurate? We have studied that a BRAND is a gut – feeling. But why? Why do some brands give us such positive vibes while some makes our guts feel like they are being wrenched? I believe that it is repeated exposure to certain circumstances and experiences (or goods and services) and our ability to comprehend and analyze the happenings that helps us to develop a good instinct. Our mind does not necessarily compile and calculate all the occurrences or weigh every strand of evidence. It sometimes considers only what can be gathered at a glance. So the more we go through certain experiences, the better and quicker we understand the probable outcomes. Developing an expertise in a certain field equips us to make more educated guesses in it. The unconscious side of our mind has already considered the important factors for making a split – second decision. And, before we are even aware of what happened in our mind, we are adhering to what we believe is our instinct. That’s probably why jewellers can glance at a gold necklace and realize whether it’s real or fake; drivers can make a guess quickly whether their car will fit into the gap while driving, so on and so – forth. Experiences and knowledge about a certain brand also make us instinctively decide whether the product/service will indeed be worthwhile. A superman CEO like Jack Welch may have entitled his autobiography Jack: Straight from the Gut, but he makes it amply clear that what developed those gut feelings were carefully charted management and operational theories.

The next time you feel your instinct telling you something, just stop and think about why. Have you been in a similar situation before? Do you have prior experience on the matter? Do you think you are equipped enough to be able to substantiate that feeling? If most answers are YES, then by all means, follow your gut. You will mostly be proved right. And following your gut feeling (when you have faith in it) saves you a lot of time than making the same decision with a lot of information at hand and time spent in pondering.


  1. Very Interesting! While I agree with you on most points..there are times when one really has not had any prior exposure to a given set of events, yet there is a voice inside that tells us...what should be done..!

    That is a Gut Feeling..it comes straight from the gut..instantly...without processing..it gives you an answer! There could be a whole lot of reasons behind that..but in those instants that matter..it is just that..an INSTINCT!

    It is only when one sits to ponder over the reasons, does one realize that may be we have encountered similar experiences or have heard of similar situations. But rarely does that happen. That is where your article comes in. It very well points out that one should give a serious thought to how we can develop this crucial attribute in each of us..the ability to be “intuitive”.

    Sometimes that is just what it takes to make a huge difference between 2 people...the ability to understand what one's GUT is trying to tell us..and even more importantly..having the 'GUTS' to follow one's GUTS..because ultimately it stems from something that is inside each of us!

  2. Agreed... But I still believe that more often than not, the instinct is developed due to prior experience... Even a person staying away from fire has learnt his lesson as a child when he was attracted to it and suffered the consequences... However, there may be certain moments, as you said, when the gut feeling kicks in rather than exposure...


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