What’s so defining about a gut feeling?

I find it interesting how the idea of a “gut feeling” has become such a well-known term in our society today.  Many people are swayed by that feeling in their lower intestine– but what’s to say this isn’t a grumbling stomach or a little indigestion?   Some use their gut feelings to make a nerve-racking decision, while others trust it to just lead them to do what is right in an everyday occurrence.  I am interested to know how this idea even originated.  So interested, that I decided to turn to a commonly trusted site — obviously I mean Wikipedia.  As I “wikipediaed” the term gut feeling, I was instantly redirected to the page on intuition and knowledge.  The meaning of the word intuition actually comes from ” the Latin word ‘intueri’, which is often roughly translated as meaning ‘to look inside’ or ‘to contemplate” (Wikipedia). Aha! So gut feeling really comes from actually looking inside one self and contemplating on a decision.

In our reading of “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” people who worked for Rebecca Mark claimed that “she trusted her gut far more than any spreadsheet” (pg. 78)  Since when is it acceptable to ignore the hard evidence of numbers and rely on a “gut feeling”?  The claim made about Mark made me laugh and realize that the faults of Enron were staring everyone in the face; whether in Mark’s trust of gut feelings, or in fudging the numbers on spreadsheets.  I tried to imagine myself completing a math problem, and instead of looking at the numbers to come up with an appropriate answer, I would just write down whatever my gut would tell me.  Clearly this is just an absurd method — but why not at Enron?  Mark would even go so far as to turn down confrontational remarks about numbers on a spreadsheet.  Clearly this shows how stubborn she could be, or perhaps she just had a fortune-telling stomach with the ability to predict the future.  Mark also seemed to let her optimistic attitude get the best of her.  She wasn’t afraid to make mistakes, and clearly she made plenty, because she believed that “all the motion of activity would lead to something better” (pg.78).  I think that this part of the book just really bothered me.  I can’t see how such a prestigious and well-known company could have top executives relying on gut feelings and ignoring the numbers right in front of them.  This is not an appropriate management style, even if it did help Mark get by in a small amount of areas.  Maybe I am being a little extreme, but I have always been a very math/science oriented person. 1+1 will always equal two and a loss will always be a loss.  Especially when it comes to dealing with such high figures, not to mention the reputation and fates of others, it seems ridiculous to trust personal intuition.  If Mark is trying to decide whether she wants chicken or fish for dinner then fine, go with your gut feeling.  But when it comes to deciding whether or not to invest millions into a project that has a red warning flag jumping out at you, then I say ignore the gut and let yourself be guided by the numbers.  I understand that no risk means no reward, but big risk also can mean even bigger loss.

6 Responses

  1. Link to Wiki article?

    For a funny riff on gut feeling, we need to find that Stephen Colbert monologue from first season about “truthiness.”

  2. I completely agree with the fact that you should not “trust” your gut especially when making decisions maybe things would have been differently with Enron if they had not always relied on their gut.

    Enjoy some truthiness …

  3. After reading a few lines down I asked myself the question, “Well, when can you trust your gut feelings?” However, you answered the question well…when deciding what you want for dinner. I agree with you, if it’s a person choice, and only affects you, then if you feel like it, go with your gut. However, if going with your gut cause a gut wrenching mess for everyone, then for Pete’s sake, go with the excel spreadsheet.

  4. Alright, there is a lot of agreeing going on here, so I will play for the other team. I love going with my gut, it is a comforting way to make game time decisions, trusting that my instincts will lead me to success. Deciding between A or B on a multiple choice test or choosing to stay in on a Wednesday night because I have a feeling it is the right thing to do. Your article intrigued me so I went browsing and found an article about a Northwestern University study.
    The research offers precise electrophysiological evidence that such decisions may sometimes not be guesswork after all and links lucky guesses to valid memories. It is our unconscious memory that comes into play when making these decisions. The study suggests “we shouldn’t rely only on conscious memory.” Ken Paller, a professor of psychology at Northwestern, says “we need to develop our intuitive nature and creativity. Intuition may have an important role in finding answers to all sorts of problems in everyday life – including big ones such as our ailing economy.”
    I think Mark’s gut feeling were not completely random acts. Her inclinations were due to years of hard work in the business. And although she wasn’t always right, it takes risks in order to be successful. If you always go by the numbers you would never win. The house has the advantage at the casino and yet people continue to gamble, sometimes with great success.

  5. Here is the article in case you are interested:
    Also, I don’t know whether what Rebecca Marks did was the right thing, I just decided to argue that way for the sake of arguing.

  6. Just another perspective but in part, I see a gut feeling as your initial instinct to act in a certain way based on whatever information you have. For example, your see a sketchy man with a ripped shirt and blood on his face. My gut feeling would be that he was just in a fight or did something wrong. Why did I get this feeling? Because I intuitively took the information presented to me and made a decision, whether consciously or unconsciously. In no way am I agree with Enron and saying that Rebecca Mark did the right thing, but isn’t this how executives today gain their position. Whether you want to say: Oh Joe’s got the knack for this stuff! or I don’t know how he does it, but he does! These all imply that some intuitive response in a person makes them more susceptible to success in comparison to others. There are no numbers or charts involved, just a inherent talent.

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