Can you count on your gut feelings

Can you count on your gut feelingsCommon sense

Just a few months ago I was approached by some business colleagues to work on a collaboration project. I was delighted and flattered to have been considered for the opportunity and immediately accepted invitations to meet and flesh out the project. As I look back I realised I attacked the topic with gusto and had actually quite quickly produced a full outline programme for a complete one day workshop. In the absence of any significant feedback to my draft material, the question then became “How quickly can we roll this out?” This all took me by surprise as I had written the outline workshop content, I would lead the majority of sessions and also prepare the presentation slides.

It was at this late point that I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable. I had been presented with an excellent opportunity to showcase my skills and work alongside new colleagues to deliver an interesting concept in partnership. I had suddenly lost my motivation and began to question the nature of the project, the team relationships and whether this was really for me. I had hit the buffers quite hard and began to fire myself a number of questions – no matter how I responded to those questions the resounding gut feeling was to stop. I could not put my finger on it, but now the project did not seem quite so enticing, and my heart began to sink.

Somewhere deep inside a little voice was telling me to bring a halt to my part in the collaboration and yet I struggled to justify this decision, especially as this was my first invitation to be part of a collaboration since I qualified as an NLP Master Practitioner earlier in the year. Nonetheless, I made the decision to quit entirely based on ‘gut instinct’ and the moment I made that decision I began to sleep easier.

As I look back at this difficult time and reflect, I have realised that I had undergone some ‘self-coaching’ based around the GROW model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will).

The project Goal was very clear to me and I had written this down together with associated feelings and thoughts to provide focus, give clarity, create motivation all to increase my chances of a successful outcome. I had asked myself so many different types of open questions to move towards a solution.

I had considered the Reality of the situation from the outset. At that time there were no significant concerns or obstacles, I had wide control of the project content, I was already mapping out the component parts and realised I had significant resources in the form of my new skills. It is only as I realise now that the input by one of the partners just didn’t feel right. Their role was likely to detract from my all that I had trained for and this was likely to affect the overall impact of the project.

I had been given a blank sheet on workshop content and so my unconscious mind began to present me with a multitude of Options to approach the project with no real constraints and quite a number of possible alternatives. The format was highly appropriate and full of satisfying advantages that would yield positive results.

But it was the Will that was the real stumbling block. I began to question whether the collaboration would meet my personal objectives and values – a key one was ‘integrity’. My perception of the co-delivery of the day was not likely to reach my expected standards. I realised that I had started to develop some personal resistance to the partnership within the collaboration and my level of commitment was draining away.

Instinctively the only conclusion I could muster to eliminate these negative factors was to withdraw. The decision was taken rather quickly, a type of snap judgement and there was no looking back. I felt I had successfully read the signs, but I was so concerned not to let down my colleagues. They were excited by the work I had produced, but it was just not right for me even though I could not explain it all at the time. My colleagues were disappointed and yet it felt as if a huge weight had lifted.

So the self-coaching process was useful to look back, but what was at play at the time? What was that gnawing little voice in my head? Where was I gaining such insight without full observation or reason at the time?
Was I thinking without awareness? Was I starting to feel ‘The Force’ like a true Jedi Knight?

Interestingly it was Prince Charles at the BBC Reith Lecture in 2000 who said:
“Buried deep within each and every one of us, there is an instinctive, heart-felt awareness that provides – if we will allow it to – the most reliable guide as to whether or not our actions are really in the long-term interests of our planet and all the life it supports?”
He added that we need “to listen rather more to the common sense emanating from our hearts”.

On this occasion, I had delegated most of the thinking and decision making to the unconscious mind. Just like driving skills, they are learned and become automatic to free the consciousness for the big stuff. When the traffic light suddenly turns red we hit the brake without consciously deciding what to do.

Intuition over common sense

In conclusion, I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s powerful book ‘Blink’ – a book about how we think without thinking and about choices that are made in an instant …in the blink of an eye:

The introduction of the book provides great context by telling the story of the proposed sale of an ancient statue. In 1983 an art dealer approached the Getty Museum in California with a sixth century BC marble statue known as Kouros which, unlike other Kouri in existence was almost perfectly preserved. It had a light coloured glow that set it apart from other ancient works and the dealer’s asking price was almost $10 million. The Getty museum was cautious and naturally undertook some investigation lasting 14 months. Legal documents and available records were considered along with electron microscope readings and x-ray analysis. The Getty Museum was satisfied this was genuine and agreed to buy the statue. It went on display for the first time in 1986 ahead of the final sale.

Whilst on display others ‘felt’ that the kouros had a problem – it didn’t look right. This ‘feeling’ was pointed out by an historian, an expert on Greek sculpture and a former director of museum art; they had no more than a hunch and an instinctive sense that something was amiss. They felt that this type of statue just didn’t come out of the ground in this condition. The Getty Museum became worried and the statue was shipped to Athens for the consideration of the most senior sculpture experts. They suspected it was fake based on “intuitive repulsion” and that the kouros was not what it was supposed to be. It took further more detailed investigation of the letters of supposed authentication when the case began to fall apart, i.e. postcodes on the letters were non-existent, a bank account could not have been opened in the stated timescales and the actual style of kouros was determined to be fundamentally wrong. This kouros had come from a forger’s workshop in Rome in the early 1980s. The sale was not concluded.

In the first few seconds of looking at the statue with a single glance by these latter intuitive experts that gave more understanding about the essence of the statue than the original investigative team at the Getty Museum had achieved in 14 months.

Now here’s the thing. Within 24 hours of terminating that collaboration, I was approached by the MD of a highly reputable Learning & Development Company to become part of a new collaboration. The prospect of working with people I knew and admired for an even more exciting project was an instantaneous decision.

Whether you are coaching others, or you face some challenging issues yourself, there are times when it may pay to listen carefully to ‘that inner voice’ and hear what it is telling you. Within those first few seconds heed your common sense, follow your instinct, see where it goes, be wary …..and win.

“How much do we know at any time?
Much more, or so I believe, than we know we know”
Agatha Christie, The Moving Finger.

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  1. Catalin Constantin says:

    I learned something new, thanks John.

  2. Chuck McKay says:

    John, you have no idea how much I enjoyed this. A story well told with a great conclusion and memorable lesson.

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