Friday, 27 January 2017

Your Sixth Sense

We have all been endowed with certain senses.  Sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing.  We use these to navigate through life.  We all have these senses to varying degrees and we all use them to make important choices.

What tastes good to one is different from another.  Beauty is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.  The sound of different music genres appeal to some but offend others.

When we are unsure of something new we encounter we often revert to the old saying ‘…if it quacks like a duck; if it waddles like a duck; and if it smells like a duck; chances are it probably is a duck…’

These are fundamental navigational tools that we depend upon.  But sometimes these senses lead us astray.  Tests have confirmed that senses often interact to create confusion in our analysis.  For example, individuals who are told that a certain smell comes from a visually attractive flower will generally rate the smell very positively.  Whereas the same smell that is identified as garbage elicits a negative response.

What’s this all got to do about leadership?  Simply this…don’t be deceived by appearances.  Learn to rely much more on your sixth sense, that is, common sense.

It is stunning to me how uncommon common sense has become.  We default to statistics as if they are gospel; we look at appearance as a predictor of success; our experiences cloud how we evaluate new opportunities; our prejudices define others before there is a chance for them to prove themselves.

Leaders must rise above the folly of decision making based on the emotions of the senses.  Remember how easily our brains get confused when conflicting senses cloud reality.  Every decision must pass the fundamental question of ‘does this make sense?’  When natural indicators derived from our five senses fly in the face of the overarching sixth sense, choose the latter.

In 1962 JFK convened a meeting in the White House after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.  A poll of those at the table recommended to Kennedy that the US should bomb Cuba.  Kennedy paused for a moment before declaring “the vote is 9 to 7 in favour of bombing.  Gentlemen, the 7’s have it”

His commitment to common sense was critical and may be remembered as one of his most important decisions.  You may argue, correctly, that his initial decision to support the invasion was wrong.  But he learned to trust his instincts over the emotions of the moment.  We are all better for it.

You are in a position of leadership because you have a demonstrated ability to exercise sound decisions based on common sense.  Don’t abandon your natural senses; they provide useful information.  But let common sense be the final arbiter and you will win far more often that you lose!

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