You hear it all the time in leadership books for entrepreneurs: "Lead with your gut!" "Follow your instinct!" "Listen to your inner voice!" Sure, this kind of advice is inspiring and can usually motivate you to get up and chase your dreams or accomplish the next goal. But once that magical dose of inspiration wears off, how often do you abandon that inner voice and go back to your old habits of second-guessing yourself and going against what your gut is telling you?
In this article, my goal is not to be inspirational but rather to give you logical -- and rational -- reasoning for following your gut in hopes that once the inspiration from those Jim Rohn and Steve Jobs’ quotes wear off, you’ll stick to your guns. Hopefully you will continue to listen to that inner voice as you market to your customers, build your team and make decisions as the leader of your company.
First, let’s discuss how the brain works. The human brain, as it is today, is the most sophisticated organ on the planet and has evolved immensely from the primitive brain our ancestors had. The brain is like an onion with layers on layers that have grown over time. In the middle of the brain is the oldest part, the brain stem. Reciprocally, out at the front of the brain, or the outer-most onion layer, is the frontal cortex, the newest part of the brain.
The frontal cortex, the latest and greatest addition to the brain, is basically what’s responsible for making humans so sophisticated. This frontal cortex is responsible for things such as logic, critical thinking, learning and language. This means, because I have a frontal cortex, I can write this article and you can read it. This part of the brain is often referred to as the conscious mind, because of its association with logic and reasoning.
Back in the more primitive part of the brain, directly connected with the brainstem, is the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is the place in the brain where all habits, feelings, emotions, experiences, memories and instincts are stored. This is often called the subconscious mind, and it is where all decision-making takes place -- not some, all. Now according to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, all learning takes place in the frontal cortex. However, once this learned behavior becomes a habit, the neurological connection responsible for this behavior moves from the frontal cortex to the basal ganglia, where it is stored as a habit.
The reason for this move is two-fold. First, it alleviates the mind from over-thinking for every common task and getting stuck in paralysis. Second, it is always freeing up space in the frontal cortex, so we can continue learning new things and take in new experiences. This is why you don’t have to think about which shoe to tie first, what hand to hold your toothbrush with or how to drive every morning on the way to work. What this also means is that most of the subconscious mind -- the part of the brain that drives decision making -- is made from past experiences and skills previously learned, which went on to become habits. So when you’re making a gut decision that feels right, many times, it’s not solely based on feelings but rather on sound logic and past experience. You just don’t notice it at the time.
Let’s look at how this works in your customers by starting with a personal example. Have you ever walked past a restaurant and said to yourself, “Oh this place looks good, let’s eat here,” then proceeded to walk in and eat there? Let me ask, what part of that decision was rational? Nothing! You had no idea what kind of food the restaurant served, how much it was going to cost or if the service would be any good -- and you had a total of zero recommendations from friends to eat there.
As you see, that decision was completely illogical. However, chances are you were right about the restaurant -- the food was good, service was exceptional and you’ll certainly be back soon. How is this so? Well, because gut feelings are products of past experiences. Chances are you had eaten at similar restaurants in the past that looked, felt, smelled and had the same type of people inside as the place you thought looked good. That’s where the gut feeling came from. That’s also why people know within three or four seconds if they like a song, know within five seconds of walking into a store whether they’ll buy something or not and know within 30 seconds of meeting someone new if they are attracted to them or not. These gut feelings stem from past firsthand experiences -- they are not merely whimsical decisions.
Now, let’s look at your team. Believe it or not, your team is made up of humans too, and thus their brains work the same way as your customers. This means that like your customers, they make decisions based on feelings, and intuition, not logic and reasoning. At Buddytruk for example, the team had a great internal debate about a year ago on whether we should add a feature in the app that allowed for scheduling deliveries or not. We saw that a majority of our users were trying to schedule a pickup, so naturally, it made sense that we build in a scheduling feature. However, it just didn’t feel right to the team, so we ultimately decided not to do it.
How come? Well, we believe that five years from now, every service imaginable will be on-demand -- including Buddytruk -- and thus to spend time and money building out a feature that we’ll eventually discard just didn’t make sense. So instead of listening to our customers -- the logical thing to do -- we continued to push forward with the on-demand service. After a few months, we found that most of our users who did want to schedule their deliveries wanted to do so not because they preferred scheduling, but because they wanted the security of knowing a driver would be available when they needed one.
As we grew, and our customers began to trust that someone would be available, they began not only to adopt but brag about the on-demand service that Buddytruk provides. In fact, most of our partners say it's the feature they like the most. When we started out, close to 80 percent of our users tried to schedule their pickups, but now, less than 5 percent do. Again, the team’s decision not to offer scheduling came from a gut feeling, not a rational decision to listen to our customers and pivot. The truth is, however, that this gut feeling probably came from our team’s several positive past experiences with other on-demand companies like Lyft, Instacart or Luxe Valet.
Finally, let’s turn the spotlight to you. As the leader of your team, you’re the source of direction and strategic guidance for your team. So although your customers, and your team, think and act illogically, you should do the opposite and be the voice of logic and reason, right? Wrong. To do so would be to waste the most important asset you have to offer your team -- your vision.
Recall the restaurant example, and how it just felt right to walk in and eat there, although you had no logical reason to support that decision. It felt right, because your past experiences at other restaurants and decisions made about where to eat programmed you to believe, with high probability, that this restaurant would be to your liking. Similarly, all your accumulated knowledge and experiences, from the books you’ve read to the people you’ve met to the places you’ve traveled and the hobbies you’ve kept or forgotten, were necessary to the birth of your vision, which is now your company.
You, and only you, had the exact amount and diversification of experiences necessary needed to connect the dots when that eureka moment struck and you said, “Ah ha! I have an idea that can change the world.” That’s why, when it comes to the major decisions about how to run your business, you should listen to your gut not only because it will generate better results, but because ultimately, the success of your business depends entirely on whether you or not you do so.
Therefore, only by following your gut can you bring to life your vision for that product, or business, that just feels right to you, your team, and ultimately, your customers. And only if your business feels right to your customers will they eat at your restaurant, wear your clothes or use your mobile application. Thus, when it comes to making major decisions about your company, do the logical thing -- think illogically.