Consider what we look for in others and ourselves as markers of intelligence. Maybe we gravitate towards history buffs, number crunchers, or folks who are multi-lingual. Perhaps we try to soak up some of those traits for our personal development. While being curious and seeking to educate one’s self is a trait that needs to be honed, there’s a key ingredient that often doesn’t get acknowledged. That skill? Intuition.
This statement isn’t just a gut instinct. A director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Gerd Gigerenzer, points to intuition as being less about divining the right answer. Instead, it’s more about instinctively understanding what information is unimportant and can thus be discarded. Intuition helps us sift through a broad array of information and focus on what really matters.
And Gigerenzer isn’t just opining on intuition – he wrote the book on it, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious. Gigerenzer considers himself both intuitive and rational.
A mix of the two traits seems key for both intelligence and success. Gigerenzer recalls that during his scientific work, he had hunches. While not able to explain why a certain path was the right way, Gigerenzer trusted it and went ahead, realizing that later he could check these hunches and figure out where they came from. By being aware of his thought processes, Gigerenzer was able to use science to frame how the concept of instinct influenced his professional endeavors.
The good news is we don’t have to be researchers at one of the world’s top institutes to make this practice work in our own lives. Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Today, this quote still rings true. In our professional lives, we may fall victim to a corporate mandate or our desire to produce a certain outcome. This results-driven approach can sometimes cause our rational minds to go in the wrong direction.
But here’s where the solution of intuition comes in. When we get so caught up in the end game that we lose sight of the process, our intuition can reground us. We’ve all felt it – that bad, gnawing feeling in our gut telling us that no matter how badly we want to talk ourselves down a particular direction, it is the wrong way to go.
So, in fact, we all use intuition to some degree; the challenge comes down to how much we hear that voice inside of us. Smart people listen to those feelings and follow suit.
Think of folks you know who are intellectually curious, rigorous in their pursuit of knowledge, and willing to challenge their own assumptions. These people – the smartest people among us – are able to make great intellectual leaps forward. But they couldn’t do this without harnessing their intuition.
The takeaway? Smart people use intuition, and the smartest folks harness their intuition and are able to go against what their rational mind is saying. To live intelligently, it’s important to master a mix of the rational/intuitive mind. Far from being a one-or-the-other choice, using the two together ups your intellectual game. So put that rational mind on pause each time you’re faced with a new challenge. Check in with your gut, and then proceed. Follow this simple step, and you’ll find yourself in a better (and smarter) position.