This is an excerpt from my weekly Unthinkable newsletter, which explores intuition at work. Sick of average results and commodity content? Get weekly ideas and stories about conventional thinking and the people who dare to question it. Subscribe here.
How great are those moments where, suddenly, you just know?
The idea strikes. The answer arrives. The path forward is suddenly illuminated with floodlights and neon signs and three friends jumping up and down screaming, "THIS WAY!" ... plus that one friend who still won't stop staring at his phone. (I see you, LARRY! DON'T EXPECT AN INVITE TO BE PART OF MY NEWSLETTER STORIES NEXT TIME!)
My point is, few things feel better than those moments where confusion suddenly gives way to clarity.
That's the power of your intuition.
Intuition is like an instant clarity generator.
But unfortunately, it doesn't always generate that clarity when we need it most. Those moments where we suddenly know aren't consistent. More often than not, the idea DOESN'T strike, and we don't know how to make sure it does. The answer DOESN'T arrive, and we don't know how to hasten it. The floodlights are off, the neon signs are broken, and every single one of your friends is sitting next to Larry, staring at their phones.
So here's my question this week:
How do we find clarity faster?
How do we get proactive and ensure that we're in control of our intuition? Because while the world paints it as some kind of mystical muse, we've uncovered something else over the past year of the podcast: Intuition is the ability to think for yourself. It's from the Latin intuir, after all, which means "knowledge from within."
So how do we kickstart that process of thinking for yourself? How do we turn intuition into a practical tool that we can grasp hold of and wield?
I think we visualize what it actually LOOKS like. If we did so, we could avoid the situations where we're overwhelmed or confused or at a loss for ideas and answers. We'd be able to turn to it like we too often turn to that list of 17 Tips and Tricks.
So what does intuition look like? I think it looks like a funnel:
In the top, you can pour all kinds of information: best practices, your ideas, others' ideas, inspiration, past precedents, and more.
And then, once you do that, this funnel called intuition does what all funnels do: It turns an overwhelming dump of stuff into a controlled stream of it.
Also, THIS feels like a good time for a new, periodic feature of this newsletter:
FIND THE FIRST PRINCIPLE
CLEARING AWAY CONVENTIONAL THINKING TO SEE THE FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH UNDERNEATH
THIS WEEK: FUNNELS
According to marketers, funnels work like this:
- Lots of stuff goes into the top (e.g., Lots of website traffic)
- Some stuff leaks out in the middle (e.g., Some of that traffic turns into subscribers, some does not)
- A little stuff comes out the bottom (e.g., A few subscribers turn into customers)
That's how funnels work in the world of marketers.
But I ventured deep inside the world of actual humans -- you know, for science -- and I uncovered something shocking: Funnels don't actually work like that.
Think: How many funnels leak water from the sides while a little bit arrives at the bottom? How many funnels ooze olive oil onto your hand as you pour more into the top?
Answer: None. None funnels.
It turns out, when actual humans use a funnel, THIS happens:
- Lots of stuff goes into the top
- The same amount of stuff comes out the bottom, but it's now in a slower, thinner stream
Funnels don't leak stuff out the sides. Funnels turn an overwhelming dump of stuff into a controlled stream of it.
So if intuition is a funnel, then it does what funnels ACTUALLY do:
Intuition turns a massive dump of information into a controlled stream of it.
And it's from that slower, thinner drip of information that we can find clarity faster.
Intuition doesn't magically find clarity for you. Instead, it orders things in such a way that lets YOU find that clarity. And while we can't make sense of all the information of the Information Age all at once, we could understand it better if we put some pressure around the sides of it, like a funnel does to liquid. In other words, if we press best practices and ideas through the constraints of our own context, we might find clarity faster. And it turns out that CONTEXT is crucial to all of this for one big reason:
Your context is always missing from the expert's best practices.
Our context is unique. THIS moment in time and THIS collection of stuff creates a singular scenario. Our context presents several variables to the equation, not least of which is our very presence in the work.
Unfortunately, best practices don't account for those variables. So the best result we can hope for when running such a faulty equation is an approximation of the best answer, not the actual best answer.
Best practices don't actually yield the "best" result ... UNLESS we consider the variables of our context.
Next week, we'll explore how we might do exactly that.
But for this week, try something: Try taking every best practice you uncover -- your own approaches from the past, your new favorite idea from an expert, everything -- and attempt to compare/contrast the things that might be different in YOUR context compared to THEIRS. You don't need to come up with the actual right answer or best path forward, but try to understand what fundamental pieces create your context (like the one I gave you above: YOU) and how those pieces might differ or change what's been dubbed the "best practice" for a given project.
In the end, maybe you'll find clarity faster. Let me know how that goes!
Trust your intuition. - Jay