Trusting Your Gut

August 25th, 2009 by Sharon Larsen

As an entrepreneur, you can’t just rely on textbook solutions: you need to learn to trust your gut.

Want to make a really big mistake? Don’t follow your gut. I can’t say enough about that little feeling known as “intuition.” Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in business resulted from following pure logic and ignoring intuition. Yes, it is important to do your homework and know the numbers, but don’t put yourself through hours of effort and then ignore your gut.

I remember one occasion when I ignored one of those “gut feelings,” and, as always happens, regretted it later. I grew up in southern Utah and still travel south down I-15 every so often to visit home. On one specific trip I had a thought while driving down the off-ramp headed home: this exit would be a perfect spot for a McDonald’s. I knew that it was the stopping point between Las Vegas and Salt Lake. However ingenious the idea, I didn’t follow my inclination. Two years later a McDonald’s went up on that exact spot. Last I checked, it was one of the highest dollar-volume McDonald’s in the state of Utah.

Learning to let logic and intuition work together is an integral component of the art of entrepreneurship. It may feel a bit loosey-goosey. It may go against the grain of the MBA classes you took. It may fly in the face of your nature. Nonetheless, I’ve learned not to argue with results. Some of the worst hires I’ve made were after reading the resume, checking the GPA, calling all the references, and matching the best candidate to the job description. On paper, one particular candidate was the most qualified, but my gut was screaming to go with the next guy.

I first internalized this concept from a seasoned entrepreneur, Ladd Christensen. Ladd is a successful businessman who co-founded Huntsman Chemical and Huntsman Christensen Corp, founded Vinca Corporation, founded Petrosource Corporation, and was a founding partner with Deer Valley Resort’s primary partner, Edgar Stern.

While I was working for Ladd on a project, he became frustrated with my “economist” mindset. He accused me of being excessively and exclusively logical. At the height of his frustration, he challenged me to provide him with an accurate definition of entrepreneurship.

Caught off guard, I rattled off a somewhat lame textbook answer. His response: “Wrong!” Then Ladd shared this thought: “Entrepreneurship is the courage to wander into the fog when you are not sure where you’re going.”

Ladd went on to explain what he meant, and his metaphor showed me I needed to course-correct. I had parts of what was necessary to be successful, but I was missing something big. Ladd explained: initially, when you set a goal, you look to that goal in the distance like a beacon. After understanding where you want to go, you shift your gaze to analyze how you’re going to get there. After surveying the terrain, you set off through the foggy swamp, desperately attempting to keep your feet going in the right direction.

Every so often you find a clearing in the fog, and you have the opportunity to get your bearings and reassess where you are in relation to your beacon. The respite does not last long, however, and you must jump back into the mud and press forward, your confidence in yourself and trust in your gut as your only solace and inspiration.

Ladd told me that while I was out there wandering I would have feelings, thoughts, and insights. He warned me not to ignore them. I came to realize that it was my intuition that would bring me to the clearings where I could take my bearings, apply logic and analysis, and dive back into the fog.

Why does the gut matter? Why does the gut work? We all have enormous amounts of information hitting us on a continual basis. Some of that information remains in the realm of consciousness and some settles into the subconscious. It’s the subconscious data that guides us without our being fully aware that it’s happening.  But the information we process intuitively is just as valid as the data we search out.

Intuition and entrepreneurship go hand in hand.

Following your gut will allow you to create, mold, and model things that have never been created, molded, or modeled before.

Porter’s Points—Trusting Your Gut

  • Unite focused preparation and analysis with the power of intuition.
  • Because the entrepreneurial path is not always clearly laid out, you must develop the ability and courage to follow your instincts.
  • You will wander in the fog—don’t fear the occasional detour.

If you have much experience as an entrepreneur, you know there is a certain amount of loneliness in leadership.  We’ll talk about that idea next time.

 

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