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Thinking Without Thinking

15 May 2015

Have you ever felt you had to follow your gut on something? If your environment or people around you pushed you in a specific direction and your reasons were based in logic, but you wanted to do the opposite.


It’s an annoying feeling when you knew you should have done something different before the fact, but didn’t. I’ve just spent hours back tracking a wrong decision because I didn’t follow my gut when I should have. I’d been asking a client for months about my involvement with a project and to how much I was needed to contribute. I was told someone else was dealing with this part of the project and I was not needed. I was sure there was going to be some confusion resulting in release issues, I knew in my gut so I kept prodding. I asked two more times and got the same replies, eventually I accepted their word as best and left it with my client to finish up. Come release time, the work had not been done by the other person and I had to fix it. If I had just acted on my gut and done it anyway there would have been a lot less stress for both parties and no release issues. The client would have been happy and I wouldn’t have been rushing around squeezing more work into an already busy schedule.


It made me think about one of my favourite books ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is about the power of thinking without thinking. I know this sounds a bit ‘Woo-Woo’ and a bit ‘New-Age’ but it’s not. It’s proven science that we have neurons in our gut, It’s not just our brains making the decisions. If you’ve felt a pull to do something and it’s not founded in experience or logic there is a good chance you should be listening closer to what your gut is trying to tell you.


The introductory chapter of Blink talks about a Kouros statue that was bought by the Getty Museum in California for $10 million. Geologists gave certification of the date and place of origin to the stone it was crafted from, proving on paper that this statue was in no way – a contemporary fake. Yet on its first public showing, the statue was sniffed out for the fake it was. Experts were noted to have said ‘I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong, it just doesn’t feel right’. The gut reaction of many was ‘it’s a fake’, yet on paper it was legit. It wasn’t.


Malcolm writes about the good and bad sides of making snap decisions. How evolutionally we are wired to act on basic instincts especially for survival. But in many cases, decision-making under stressful situations can be very fragile. This is evident in his telling of the shooting of Amadou Diallo. The newly appointed police officers that shot Diallo believed he was dangerous. A black man with his back turned, reaching into his pocket for his wallet or possibly a gun. Their rational thinking shut down, primitive stereotyping and inaccurate assumptions chimed in and they opened fire. Not too bad if Amadou was a charging lion on the African savanna. Not too good if you’re an innocent African migrant in America reaching for your ID and struggling to understand the English words ‘put your hands up’.


What happens in extreme situations is our bodies divert blood to the centre of our bodies allowing for an explosion of energy to which other body parts we might need to physically utilise in order to survive. Should we need to run, punch jump or react in any way, we’ll have the resource available. Unfortunately the blood doesn’t go to our heads, in stressful situations we don’t look for the most logical and calculated way to apply our energy. We just react without any emotional sophistication. We become socially unaware, other motor functions shut down along with our perceptions of time. Amongst all this chaos we can make very poor intellectual decisions.


Now am I saying the miscommunication between my client and me was because lions were chasing us? No! But we are both incredibly busy people. As highly adaptive evolutionary beings, we haven’t quite adapted to modern times and the pressures that we place on ourselves in intellectually demanding situations. Giving yourself metal space and a bit more time helps you make more accurate decisions. Under the pressures of looming deadlines, we might only be communicating a one-way conversation. With lots more to think about, we might be deviating our listening energy from what the other person is asking of us.


As creative entrepreneurs we need to both harness and be aware of the good and bad sides to thinking with our gut. We obviously need to create things using our intuition and impulse. But as business owners we need to be alert to stressful situations where we might not be thinking too clearly. If your gut is trying to tell you something listen up, It might save you a few extra hours of work!


Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s books on Amazon and watch his keynote below



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