Intuition Is the Highest Form of Intelligence

Intuition, argues Gerd Gigerenzer, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, is less about suddenly "knowing" the right answer and more about instinctively understanding what information is unimportant and can thus be discarded.

Gigerenzer, author of the book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, says that he is both intuitive and rational. "In my scientific work, I have hunches. I can’t explain always why I think a certain path is the right way, but I need to trust it and go ahead. I also have the ability to check these hunches and find out what they are about. That’s the science part. Now, in private life, I rely on instinct. For instance, when I first met my wife, I didn’t do computations. Nor did she."

I'm telling you this because recently one of my readers, Joy Boleda, posed a question that stopped me in my tracks:

What about intuition? It has never been titled as a form of intelligence, but would you think that someone who has great intuition in things, has more intelligence?

My "gut instinct" is to say yes, especially when we are talking about people who are already intellectually curious, rigorous in their pursuit of knowledge, and willing to challenge their own assumptions.

Let me put this a bit simpler. If all you do is sit in a chair and trust your intuition, you are not exercising much intelligence. But if you take a deep dive into a subject and study numerous possibilities, you are exercising intelligence when your gut instinct tells you what is - and isn't - important.

In some respects, intuition could be thought of as a clear understanding of collective intelligence. For example, most websites are today organized in an intuitive way, which means they are easy for most people to understand and navigate. This approach evolved after many years of chaos online, as a common wisdom emerged over what information was superfluous and what was essential (i.e. About Us = essential).

Theo Humphries argues that intuitive design can be described as "understandable without the use of instructions". This is true when an object makes sense to most people because they share a common understanding of the way things work.

You might say that I'm a believer in the power of disciplined intuition. Do your legwork, use your brain, share logical arguments, and I'll trust and respect your intuitive powers. But if you merely sit in your hammock and ask me to trust your intuition, I'll quickly be out the door without saying goodbye.

I say this from personal experience; the more research I do, the better my intuition works.

Albert Einstein said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Sometimes, a corporate mandate or group-think or your desire to produce a certain outcome can cause your rational mind to go in the wrong direction. At times like these, it is intuition that holds the power to save you. That "bad feeling" gnawing away at you is your intuition telling you that no matter how badly you might wish to talk yourself into this direction, it is the wrong way to go.

Smart people listen to those feelings. And the smartest people among us - the ones who make great intellectual leaps forward - cannot do this without harnessing the power of intuition.

You might also like the next article in this series, Do You Believe in God, But Not Intuition?

When You Make a Mess, Have Fun Cleaning It Up

One morning last week, I made myself a bowl of oatmeal, poured an iced tea, and headed towards my home office. But I was already preoccupied with work and not really paying attention. My toe caught the edge of the second step. Wham! Oatmeal and tea splattered everywhere.

At 7:58:01 I was excited about a great new idea. At 7:58:31 I was mopping up a mess.

This is a trivial example, but it’s also the way life is. Fresh out of business school, I took a job with Citibank and headed to Europe to travel for a month before joining the workforce. While I was away, the division that hired me shut down, and I lost my job before it started.

Fortunately, things also work in unexpectedly positive ways. I found the best job of my career by answering an ad that Seth Godin placed in the New York Times. His ad said, “Before you come to our open house, read The One to One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers.”

I bought the book on the way to Seth’s event, intending to skim it in his parking lot, but ended up reading almost the whole book in my car. Weeks later, I was working for Don and Martha’s company.

You walk through one door and a bucket of water falls on your head. You walk through another and someone doubles your salary. (Of course, most times when you walk through a door, you simply enter another room.)

Since people don’t like uncertainty, many of us delude ourselves that we know what’s on the other side of each door through which we pass.

This, of course, is wrong.

Once you understand this, you end up with only two logical strategies:

1. When you fail, act as though success is following close behind: Don’t give up or give into self-pity. Don’t accept that your fate is bleak or hopeless. Just dig in and work your way back towards the light.

In real life, many people get worn down by adversity. They start to believe that their fate is to do badly. Your fate is what you believe it to be, so never accept this conclusion.

2. When you succeed, act as though failure is following close behind: If and when you get to the top of the mountain, do not scream, “I’m king (or queen) of the mountain!” Be as nice to people as when you were working your way up from the bottom. Be cautious with your newly-earned gains. Recognize that this, too, shall pass.

In real life, people love to believe that they are 100% responsible for their success. Not true.

The people around you are largely responsible for your success; never, ever forget that.

My favorite saying, which comes in many slightly different forms, is this: Gain your pleasure from the journey itself, not from some distant destination.

Don’t let your happiness depend on a perfect outcome to your day, year, or decade.

In other words, when you spill your oatmeal, have fun cleaning it up.

How to Stay Calm, No Matter What

Last month, I was pretty stressed out, thanks mostly to a seemingly endless stream of minor, but irritating, problems. It got so that I was reacting negatively almost immediately to each new development. Some people spend entire years in this state.

Fortunately, I realized what was happening and managed to disrupt that negative cycle of gloom and doom. Here’s how I did it, along with other proven tips for staying calm:

1. Dump the caffeine: For decades, I avoided caffeine altogether, but recently started drinking two ice teas per day, plus up to two bottle of BAI flavors, which also have caffeine. I quit cold turkey, preferring to suffer a headache for a few days than to remain stressed out and easily annoyed.

(True confession:  see 2a below.)

2. Exercise: After years of resisting the fitness armband fad, I went out and bought three of them: one each for myself, my wife and our 15-year-old son. We immediately connected our accounts, which created an ongoing challenge to see who could a.) walk at least 10,000 steps per day, and b.) exercise more than the others.

In truth, I don’t need to “beat” my wife and son, but ever since all of us have increased our activity levels and crushed the 10k a day step level that experts say is the minimum needed to be healthy.

2a. It's now two weeks since I wrote the first draft of this article, and I've mountain biked every day since then. So I now allow myself an ice tea in the morning. Your goal should be calm, not crazy.

3. Goodbye 1 a.m. bedtime: I’m a night person, and love to fiddle around late at night when everyone has gone to sleep. The quiet gives me time to think and work, but going to sleep late just makes me an even worse morning person. More importantly, I don’t have time to exercise and get my work done unless I get up early…so hello early bedtime. I was in bed last night at 10:30 p.m. and started writing this article at 6 a.m.

But these first three tips are pretty basic, and I mention them only because they helped dig me out of a hole. The next three are more universal, and more impactful…

4. Anger = you lose: There are two types of Hollywood fight scenes. In one, the main character gets mad and triumphs over a stronger opponent. In the other, the opponent gets mad and the main character wins. The second is far more realistic.

Once you lose your temper, you are in danger. You grow rash and stupid. Your vision narrows. You become easy prey for anyone who wants to defeat you.

In tough times, you must keep this truth in the front of your mind. Once you give in to anger, you lose. Don’t let others bait you, push your buttons, or simply annoy you with their ineptitude.

Ask yourself this. “Who is in charge, my brain or my emotions?”

5. React slowly: I watch stressed out people respond immediately to every text message, email and phone call that annoys them. In many cases, you can’t even say, “Could we take a second to talk?” before they blast out a reply.

That is an absurd, crazed habit.

Remember no. 4. Take your time. Let others wait, even when they claim they have no time to wait. Focus on your goals. Focus on staying calm and in control. It is nearly always better to be intelligent than instant.

6. Ask Yourself “Why?”: Before you make difficult decisions, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?

Are you reacting on the basis of ego (“they don’t know who they’re dealing with”)?

Are you simply making the same decision you’ve made ten times before, without considering whether those past decisions got results that made you happy?

Be sure to make decisions because they are the right path to your long-term goals. Remain true to your personal and professional values. Listen to the people whose opinions you most respect.

You might also like: my Forbes article, Change Your Environment, Change Your Results.