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The power of ‘gut feel’ in international business

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Export, New Exporters

I recently joined an interesting presentation by Prof Gerard Hodgkinson at Leeds University Business School, who suggested there is a growing body of evidence that gut feelings are a better guide to making decisions than simple rational analysis.

As a fan of rational analysis, I wouldn’t suggest that people whizz off to new countries without planning and preparation.  However, this is not about the power of emotion over rationality, but a reflection of complexity and our ability to handle it consciously.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is an example used of an F1 driver who, when winning a race, had a powerful urge to brake hard and pull in before going round a sharp bend. He did so and coming slowly round the corner discovered a pile up which he would have hit at 220mph.

Researchers attached an EEG to the driver and played back the helmet video footage. They were able to pinpoint what had generated this gut reaction: Unconsciously he knew that if you are winning a race the crowd are looking at you and cheering. But he perceived, without physically noticing, that all the spectators were facing round the corner and there was no waving.  He reacted on instinct and the unconscious knowledge saved him from serious injury.

Interesting, but so what?

The more experienced and skilled you are, the more information you can unwittingly process and react to.

As a rule you should follow intuition if you are experienced, but not if you are new to a situation.  

Follow positive hunches if you are experienced, or if you are not, take the opportunity to find out more.  Perhaps attend a specialist trade fair to investigate a hunch before jumping in at the deep end – it may lead you somewhere.

Gut feelings can be positive about finding new opportunities or negative – a sense of foreboding.

Take care to avoid confusing a sense of fear or unease about entering a new situation, such as taking the plunge into Vietnam or selling overseas for the first time, with a trained gut feel for issues. Gut feel only works if you are experienced and know what you are doing.  

The real value of gut feelings are that you can respond quickly to information or a given situation before others have rationally analyzed it - thus giving you a competitive advantage. 

Similar in fact to the reason that I am generally quicker away from the traffic lights in a car than others – not because I accelerate harder, but because I react quicker thanks to a simple technique I learnt years ago. (I like getting a head start so I am not going to share this!)

You can take the opportunity to develop your knowledge and skills, and make you more adept at responding to your gut feeling, by attending Momentum Gathering in Leeds on 18 June, which will highlight new ideas and development programmes from the IOD, UKTI and others. Click here to find out more.

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