#270 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 4          April 1997

Intuition at Work
by Roger Frantz, Ph.D.

Dr. Frantz, professor of economics at San Diego State University, is Director of the annual INTUITION 2000 Conference. He is co-editor of Intuition at Work:  Pathways to Unlimited Possibilities (New Leaders Press, San Francisco, CA, 1997).  He  can be contacted at 619-594-3718, or at rfrantz@mail.sdsu.edu.  

What do Chrysler chairman Robert Eaton and Albert Einstein have in common?  They both found value in using their intuition!  The cover of a recent issue of Forbes read, “Company of the Year.  Chrysler:  Smart, Disciplined, Intuitive”.   Eaton stated, “We’ve...put so much faith in analysis and quantification and other areas of left-brain thinking, we’ve often missed the forest for all the well-examined trees.  Over the past few year’s I’ve been on sort of a personal crusade at Chrysler to legitimize what, for lack of a better term, I refer to as right-brain thinking.” 

Einstein’s understanding of the laws of physics was enhanced from his own intuitive practices of creative visualization.  Einstein concluded that there’s "no logical path leading to these laws.  They can be reached only by intu­ition, and this intuition is based on an intellectual love of the objects of experience."  Einstein is an example of many scientists who “know” the answer before they can prove it, and do their research according to the saying, “ready, fire, aim.”  Or, as Jonas Salk remarked, “Let intuition be your guide, with reason at your side.”

An International Survey

Many  people in business also appreciate and practice using their intuition.  A recent book by Jadish Parikh, Intuition: The New Frontier in Management (Blackwell, London, 1994), reported the results of a survey of 1312 managers in 9 countries.  Almost 80% admitted to using intuition and believe that it contributes to corporate success.  More than 70% believe that intuition also is important to R&D efforts.

These managers listed several definitions of intuition.  The most common were: non-logical thinking, decisions without reason, decisions based on few clues or data points, a feeling from within, subconscious analysis derived from information stored in memory, a gut feeling, a sixth sense, and spontaneous knowing. Almost 60% believe that intuition can be enhanced.  I believe that intuitive abilities can be enhanced in everyone. 

Intuition’s Origins

It seems that intuition emerges from the sub-conscious.  A successful CEO correctly analyzes a situation faster than a top MBA student.  The CEO draws upon a wealth of information stored in the memories.  The brain gathers information stored in memory and “packages” it as a new insight or solution.  The successful CEO only experiences the intuition; the work is done in the subconscious. 

A chess grandmaster holds in memory the significance of between 50,000 and 250,000 patterns of chess pieces.  Grandmasters don’t play by thinking analytically or logically; they play chess intuitively. They rely on the very rapid, pattern-recognition abilities of their subconscious.  This is also how zoologists identify thousands of different insects, how botanists identify thousands of flowers, and what doctors refer to as “clinical judgment.” 

We receive intuitions as images, hunches and feelings.  They occur while we’re awake or sleeping (dreams).  Intuitions can also be incorrect.  Intuitions are stored information packaged in a new way.  So, if the information being packaged is faulty, then so will the intuition.  Intuitions of an expert chemist about chemistry are going to be more reliable than intuitions about chemistry from an economist.


Intuitions are images received from the brain. Trust that you have a reservoir of creative problem-solving capabilities which your memory and subconscious are guarding, and which your brain can deliver to your conscious mind. Max Planck, whose research led to quantum mechanics, believed that a “vivid intuitive imagination,” along with analytical skills is the source of creativity and advances in human knowledge.  Isadora Duncan, one of the great dancers of the 20th century, once remarked about the logical aspect of dancing, “If I could tell you what it is, I would not have danced it.” 

OK, dancing is not the same as business leadership or research.  But they’re not completely dissimilar either; both lead to the creation of something new, and both rely on the ability of  people to transcend the known for the unknown. Duncan, Planck, Einstein and Eaton suggest that (analytical) training and intuition, working together, is a formula for success.  But more important, they knew/know that their lives contain both analytical and intuitive components. 

For years you’ve been giving your intuition the input it requires—facts and data.  And, you’ll continue to do so.  Now that your “intuition computer” has inputs, turn it on, and let it do its thing.  How can you turn it on?  Excuse me for saying this, but—get out of the way!  Let your subconscious thinking use what you’ve given it. 

Melvin Calvin won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The final piece of the puzzle came while Calvin was sitting in his car waiting for his wife.  His research took years in the lab and one moment while sitting in his car! This out-of-the-blue illumination is known as the Eureka experience.  There’s an old Buddhist saying, “Do nothing and everything will be accomplished.”  In other words, let the data and the analysis sink-in; relax and let the subconscious intuitive process do its part.

Phil Lipetz, a molecular biologist and venture capitalist, while meditating, “saw” how DNA is related to both cancer and aging.  Michael Munn was a scientist for Lockheed, meditating in his car during lunch, when he “saw” a better way to shoot down missiles.  Both of their intuitions proved correct in the lab.  Maya Angelou prepares to write a book by sitting in a bare room and playing solitaire.  At the same time, she’s allowing her “large” mind the freedom to percolate, to do its thing.  And when she begins writing, she writes about whatever comes to mind, in whatever sequence, regardless of topic.  She simply allows the process of writing to occur, and holds to the belief that writing itself  is good because, “it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘OK. OK, I’ll come.’”

Your Personal Style 

Practice and experiment to discover conditions where and when your intuition is most activated.  Intuition is an art-form, and that’s why you need to experiment.  We’re all different, and the conditions under which our intuitions are activated will differ among us.  Are your intuitions more accurate in the morning, afternoon or evening; on any particular day(s) of the week; during any particular type of activity?  Does reading best activate your intuition, or is it music, walking, dancing, exercise or sleep?  Make a note of your intuitions, including when and where you were and what you were doing when they occurred.  If listening to music in your living room on Saturday morning seems to trigger your best intuitions, then for some reason, that time and day, and that activity is best.

Your intuitions are most likely associated with a sense of “Aha!” a sense of wonder, or immediate discovery.  Things fall into place and you now have the bigger picture.  Who knows, you may even feel like jumping up and shouting, “Eureka!”


Just as your intuition needs data and facts to work with, so does it require images to convey itself.  You provide the images.  Here are a couple of many possible ways to activate your intuition.

Exercise # 1.  Think of a situation you are grappling with.  It could be which project receives more resources, or which person to promote, or which plan to follow.  Define the situation clearly and be specific; avoid questions with multiple parts.  Think of  two or three possible solutions. Then,

  take a deep breath and close your eyes

  relax for a few moments (any way you know how)

  repeat the first solution to yourself and, as you do, visualize a door with the number 1 on it

  approach the door and open it

  be aware of the images and feelings of opening the door and what’s inside

  then, repeat this process for each of the other solutions

  afterwards, make notes on the experiences surrounding each door, and the solution you “feel” will be the best one

If you prefer, let each solution be represented by a jacket, a pair of shoes, a bowl of soup, a walking path, a ride on a horse, to name just a few.  This isn’t children’s play—it’s a way for your intuition to communicate with you.  If you choose to work with jackets, then as you think of the first solution you will find yourself wearing a jacket.  How does it fit?  How does it feel?  Then think of the second solution and you’ll be wearing a different jacket. The time you spend with each door (jacket, etc.) should not exceed 30 - 45 seconds. 

Exercise # 2.  To tap into a group’s intuitive wisdom, you can modify the previous exercise.  Allow the group to define both the issue and the possible solutions.  Each member practices the exercise independently and simultaneously, and each reports the findings.  Don’t be surprised if there’s a high degree of consensus.

Exercise #3.  It’s not necessary to specify possible solutions for this exercise.  State the problem to yourself.  Then,

  take a deep breath and close your eyes

  relax for a few moments, then

  mentally state the question—without analyzing it

  open your eyes and allow them to settle on the first object you see (to avoid analyzing)

  ask yourself what this object tells you about the problem

  when finished, make notes that will help you solve the problem

The Pitfall

Judging, analyzing or evaluating intuitions while you’re doing an exercise, like the ones above, will nullify your intuitions.  Asking yourself whether or not the image or answer makes “sense” or is the “right” answer takes you out of your intuitive mode immediately. You must allow the intuition complete freedom to come forth.  Everything that happens after you judge, analyze, evaluate or block an intuition is coming from the logical, analytical mind.  Leave your analysis and interpretation for afterwards.  The good news is  that you know what analyzing is about.  You know what it “feels” like. So, when you find yourself analyzing—stop.  Stop making sense!  At least for a few moments.

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