Speak to any business owner or leader and they all have a tale of woe about when they didn’t trust their gut or went against their instinct. It’s the same in life, isn’t it. Our instinct is often right but in business other factors can get in the way. We can put money, kudos and our own self-doubt in the way of making an intuitive decision. The question I’m talking about here is, should you listen to your head or your gut in business?

Saying ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’

So many times, I hear from business owners, especially when starting out, that they feel honoured that someone wants to work with them. The delight and excitement can mask the red flags that are right in front of them, so they get ignored. “It’ll be fine” or “I’ll manage their expectations” form the inner narrative. Yet, something is really niggling at you saying “run a mile” but you ignore it! And then a while down the road when things become tricky, because these red flags were ignored, it can get downright messy. Starting out with best intentions then leaving that person feeling even more insecure in their business. Not a great start to your business journey – though a good lesson to be learnt.

Navigating large organisations when ‘instinct’ isn’t a box to be ticked

The same thing happens in large organisations and in hierarchical businesses. If a leader has gone against their gut instinct perhaps in favour of towing the company line or not to upset more senior colleagues, it can backfire leading to more problems later down the line. It’s almost harder here because you can’t quantify “it just didn’t feel right” on an interview questionnaire or appraisal form. You definitely can’t find that box to tick during a financial decision-making process either. You may need to find the data or facts to back up your instinct here. This isn’t a case of finding the ones just to confirm your bias, but information which can’t be disputed.

Respect your instincts

The key here I feel is to give your instinct the respect it deserves from the very start, but it is easier said than done. In the past year, people have used their gut instinct more than ever as unprecedented decisions have had to be made often very quickly. This has resulted in a lot of nervousness, fear and trepidation of making the wrong decision. Then the repercussions that could come with the wrong decision start making us doubt ourselves.

Spiderman knew good decisions weren’t just about data

One good way to approach it, is to give your instinct equal footing to other factors such as data. Numbers don’t lie, but if what they are leading you to do doesn’t feel right, this shouldn’t be ignored. It’s about getting perspective, thinking things through and getting in tune with your Spidey sense and what it’s telling you.

Instinct can yield massive rewards too

There are many, many success stories that would not be so if they had just based decisions on facts alone. It was their instinct that told them it was the right thing to do and it has paid off. Think about all the Dragons’ Den pitches that have been rejected that have gone on to be phenomenal brands: BrewDog, Trunki, Tangle Teezer, Hungry House. They were advised that their businesses weren’t worthy of investment, but their belief and instinct kept them going.

A famous quote from Richard Branson is:

“I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”

Is he the anomaly here or does his success come from this?

You don’t have to make decisions alone

In business, instincts are indeed vital to our decision making, but we need to trust our head and gut equally. If we’re still conflicted, then this is the time to get support on the matter. Ask for help from a colleague, contact or business coach to really give the issue the thinking it deserves. As Malcom Gladwell said in his book, Blink:

“truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”

So should you listen to your head or your gut in business? I think it’s a fine balance of both.