Careers

Harnessing the Power of Intuition

By Hoai Huong Tran

In my article, “Embracing a Nonlinear Career Path: A Journey of Growth and Adaptability,” I shared a powerful quote from Steve Jobs’ renowned 2005 Stanford University speech. Jobs’ words, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” underscore his belief in intuition. He emphasized the importance of not letting the noise of others drown out our inner voices, and encouraged trusting our hearts and intuition to guide our path.

While following your intuition may seem simple, it’s a complex and often misunderstood concept. In the context of this article, it’s important to clarify that intuition is not some mystical or supernatural force, as many might believe. It’s a practical tool that leverages the mind’s ability to swiftly and subconsciously recognize patterns, and draw upon past experiences. Our minds constantly process and store information, integrating subtle cues and accumulated knowledge. This cognitive process operates beneath our conscious awareness, enabling us to make rapid judgments and decisions. This practical understanding of intuition makes it valuable in our decision-making toolkit. It reassures us about its effectiveness, empowering us to navigate complex situations, especially in career development and decision-making.

Allow me to share a personal anecdote that illustrates the practical application of intuition. Years ago, I found myself at a career crossroads, faced with a significant decision between two distinct paths. One option was to remain at Microsoft, where I had just led a successful multi-phased research program to support the launch of Office 2007, with the opportunity to contribute to future versions of the program. The other choice was to join a small, yet highly successful branding company in northern California. This alternative presented risks, including adapting to a smaller environment, and potentially relocating. The decision was difficult, and I grappled with it for some time.

Ultimately, I made a bold move. I followed my intuition and accepted the position at the smaller company. Despite weighing the pros and cons, my intuition guided me to believe this was the right move for my career and personal growth. I negotiated with the company to spend the first three months in California for onboarding and acclimation, transitioning to remote work afterward. This decision required trust in my inner wisdom, and a willingness to embrace change and new challenges. It was a leap of faith, a necessary one for the circumstances at the time.

After three months of traveling between the Bay Area and Seattle, the commute began to take its toll. I realized that to succeed in my role, I would ultimately need to relocate to the Bay Area. Since I was unwilling to move, the company and I decided to part ways. I returned to Seattle, and a couple of weeks later, I started my own consulting company, with Starbucks as my first customer.

So, did my intuition lead me astray? Intuition is not infallible; biases, emotions and incomplete information can influence it. Moreover, intuition is not suitable for all contexts, so while it can be helpful when quick decisions are needed, it may not be ideal in all circumstances. However, my intuition led me to a job where I learned about branding — an experience and skill I have honed since. More importantly, it allowed me to live near my brother for at least three months. This was particularly significant because we lost both of our parents the previous year. For the first time in my adult life, I had the opportunity to interact daily with my brother — a critical time to connect and rebuild my family, and one for which I am forever grateful. This personal growth and connection, facilitated by intuition, inspire me to continue developing and trusting this powerful tool. Trusting my intuition empowered me to take control of my career path and instilled confidence in my decision-making abilities, shaping my future.

Intuition and Logical Reasoning: Complementary Tools

Despite common understanding to the opposite, intuition and logical reasoning are not mutually exclusive. In reality, they can complement each other effectively. In Emma Seppälä’s article, “Your Intuition is Real, and Research Shows How to Access It,” she discusses two forms of intuition. One form is highly cognitive, and the other is more of a feeling. The former is what Seppälä refers to as “hyperawareness.” This type of intuition involves heightened cognitive processing and acute observation skills.

To illustrate, Marine Corps Officer Maurice Chipp Naylon, in his book “The New Ministry of Truth,” describes how the U.S. Marine Corps formalizes training to hone gut instinct. This training involves becoming an acute observer and training one’s observation skills to notice deviations from the norm in the environment. For instance, when Naylon was patrolling in Afghanistan, seeing that a usually busy playground was suddenly empty would indicate a deviation from the norm and signal potential danger. This practice of hyperawareness blends intuition with logical analysis, demonstrating how the two can work together to enhance decision-making.

In this context, intuition is a rapid, subconscious assessment tool that draws on past experiences and pattern recognition. Logical reasoning, on the one hand, provides a structured, conscious analysis of the situation. Together, they form a robust framework for making informed decisions, especially in complex or high-stakes environments.

The other form of intuition is “more of a feeling.” In his book “On a Wing and a Prayer,” Kushal M. Choksi shared how he saved his life during 9/11 by following his intuition and getting out of the Twin Towers building seconds before it collapsed. Research from Neuroscientist Joseph Mikels, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, shows that “in situations — like Kushal’s — where matters are complex, you’ll make a better decision following your feelings.” According to Seppälä, Mikels’ research confirms that “for older adults whose cognitive faculties might not always be as sharp as younger people’s, intuition is even more important than age.” See Your Intuition is Real, and Research Shows How to Access It

Seppälä’s examples underscore the crucial role of intuition in decision-making, whether through heightened cognitive awareness or gut feelings. Integrating intuition with logical reasoning can enhance the ability to navigate complex situations and make more informed choices. This reassures us that our decision-making process relies not solely on one aspect but on a balanced blend of intuition and logical reasoning, providing a solid foundation for our choices.

“Intuition without intellect is like buying a plane without any propulsion. I do the analysis, but my decision comes from my place of knowing. You can’t shut off your intuition,” concluded Lynn Tilton, The Turnaround Queen. See Your Intuition is Real, and Research Shows How to Access It. According to Malcolm Gladwell, practical intuition often comes from a deep well of knowledge and experience in a particular area, further emphasizing the importance of integrating intuition with logical reasoning in decision-making. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking.

Developing Intuition Through Practice and Self-Awareness

Developing intuition takes time and practice. Over the years, I have learned to improve my intuition by exposing myself to various situations and challenges. Self-awareness and honesty about my feelings, wants, and needs are crucial for cultivating intuition. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that expertise in a specific domain enhances our intuitive abilities. The more we learn about a field, the more we build confidence, allowing us to trust our judgment in areas where we have knowledge and experience.

One of my daily practices that fosters intuition is my morning swim. This routine allows me to unplug and meditate, enhancing my problem-solving abilities and creativity. By creating space for reflection and mental clarity, I am better equipped to listen to my inner voice, and make decisions aligned with my true self. This combination of self-awareness, continuous learning, and dedicated time for mental relaxation has significantly strengthened my intuitive capabilities.

In conclusion, harnessing the power of intuition involves recognizing its practical value, integrating it with logical reasoning, and continuously developing it through practice and self-awareness. By doing so, we can navigate our career paths and personal lives with greater confidence and insight, trusting that our inner wisdom will guide us through the complexities of life.

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Hoai Huong Tran

Hoai Huong Tran, a sociologist by nature, is deeply committed to understanding the world around her. Her multicultural background, originating from Vietnam and raised in America, has shaped her and ignited a profound curiosity about the intricacies of human interaction and experience. She is dedicated to exploring, understanding, and articulating the complexities of the world with depth and insight.

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