THE S-FACTOR BLOG
The Power of Experience & Intuition in Making Decisions
Ed Viesturs, arguably the world’s most respected big mountain alpinists and guides, once turned around just 300 feet from the summit of Mt. Everest.
In his May, 2016 conversation with TIME magazine, Veisturs shares,
“Don’t try to reach the summit at all costs….A lot of people go, ‘This is my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ and that makes it harder for people to be willing to turn around. Up there, you’re so tempted. Other people keep going. You kind of get swept up in that.”
Viesturs was on Everest in May, 1996 as when teams pushed to the summit as late as 4:00 pm, two hours after the established turn-around time, and soon found themselves in the fight for their lives, or dead in the case of beloved guide Rob Hall. Viesturs continued in the TIME article,
“The mountain decides what you get to do. That’s something that you really have to listen to. If you’re rushing, if you’re thinking it has to happen today, then you’re going to make bad decisions.”
Whether on top of Everest or in a moment at work, the pressure and temptation to heed our desire and emotion is powerful. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner and expert on the psychology of decision-making, Daniel Kahneman identifies two decision-making systems at work – “System 1” the fast, intuitive system, and “System 2,” a lazy, slow rational system.
System 1 is the origin of what we do wrong but it’s also the origin of what we do right… The acquisition of skills requires a regular environment, an adequate opportunity to practice, and rapid and unequivocal feedback on the correctness of our thoughts and actions. When these conditions are fulfilled, skill eventually develops and the intuitive judgements and choices that quickly come to mind will mostly be accurate.
Viesturs had plenty of practice and he uses it effectively in moments of truth. Just steps from his life dream, he studied the situation, mapped it to his experience, took decisive action, and turned around. Tough pill to swallow, but he stayed alive.
Marcus Aurelius, Ghandi and Abe Lincoln – all faced tough decisions. Think of the bloodshed and oppression and the temptations to act out. Instead, they held tight to their purpose and honored their experienced intuition to guide them. They knew, like Veistures and the stoics and modern start-ups, to coldly pivot in the moment to stay alive and find another time or way to realize the mission.
In fact, Viesturs went on to summit Everest it seven times.
How can modern day leaders make tough decisions?
1. Be grounded. Know why you are here and your intention. Viesturs mission is to return his teams safely form their adventures, not get to the summit at all costs. Decisions become quite easy when you know if they align with your core mission.
2. Slow down. The pressure and pace of decisions is enormous in business. In moments of great pressure, stop and breathe. Take a brief moment to step back and slow down. When we slow down, the mind balances its intuitive and rational energies. When we do this, we not only create conditions for better decisions, we also create space for creativity and possibility.
3. Question your biases. When you slow down, take time to involve others. Ask for feedback from people who might disagree with your intuition. Opposing perspectives may trigger your subtle biases. Involving others has the added benefit of showing trust and respect for your people, which is motivating.
4. Keep your distance. Harvard Business School professor, psychologist and author of Emotional Agility, Dr. Susan David, says “Emotions are data not direction.” Great leaders have the skill to recognize, accept and then manage their attachment to challenges. Detachment allows them to more cleanly and clearly perceive a situation before thinking through and weighing alternatives responses.
5. Trust your gut. You are in the position to make a decision because someone thinks you have the experience required to make tough calls required of the role. Making the right calls got you to this place. Don’t forget it when the heat turns on. You got this.
6. Act bravely. There are 3 keys to success in life. Act, act, and act. You will never act perfectly. You will always learn. Not acting is a failure. Yes, do all of the above. Put in place all the ways you’ll manage the risk. But then make the call. Move ahead. And learn. If it’s a total failure, you’ll learn and like Lincoln, always find another way forward.
As an undergraduate, I studied androgyny as a force for creativity and transformation. It wasn’t my idea. Truth be told, I was carrying a “big bag of nothing” for a thesis topic and time was running out. My mentor offered it up. She said the future would be owned by creators powered by an androgynous mindset. Was I ever confused. But was she ever right.
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