Intuition Is The Highest Form Of Intelligence. And, It Can Be Trained


Jeff Bezos said an interesting thing recently…

“All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition, guts... not analysis” —Jeff Bezos

Here’s arguably the most successful entrepreneur in history. He employs hundreds of thousands of people in one of the most complex organizations in the world, and he’s not talking about doing deep analysis in order to make big decisions.

He's talking about intuition—a term that has become a four letter word recently.

Bezos’ statement flies in the face of decades of research in Behavioral Economics (i.e., Thinking Fast & Flow, Nudge, Predictably Irrational), which shows how cognitive biases cause us to be irrational when we use our gut instinct. The statement also flies in the face of a growing consensus that algorithms are slowly replacing human intuition.

Bezos' quote is also interesting because he's not alone.

Many of the greatest innovators of science, art, and business have attributed their success to intuition:

"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." —Steve Jobs
"It has been just so in all my inventions. The first step in intuition." —Thomas Edison
"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." —Albert Einstein
“Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.” ―Madeleine L'Engle, Author, A Wrinkle In Time

What’s going on here? How do we reconcile these two paradigms that seem at odds with each other? Deliberate decision-making and intuition?

A valuable mental model (more on mental models here) that most people aren't even aware of gives us a unique answer this question...

Introducing The Polarity Map

Barry Johnson has spent almost his entire professional career studying, practicing, and teaching individuals and organizations how to handle polarity paradoxes like the one we confront in this article. Earlier this year I read his book and spoke with him on the phone.

Johnson's genius is that he offers a very simple model that works incredibly well every time you experience a polarity. And he calls it the polarity map.

You've probably heard the saying, "You've got to take the good with the bad and the bad with the good." The wisdom here is a few-fold:

  • There are two sides to conflicts.
  • Each side has figured out valuable stuff.
  • Each side has blindspots.
  • Therefore, we should understand the pros and cons of each side.

To this end, Johnson provides the following visual mental model for the polarity map:


And he also points out a fascinating pattern—people tend to predictably cycle through the four quadrants:

  1. They get exposed to a brilliant paradigm. It works really well, and they start to apply it everywhere. They are like someone whose only tool is a hammer and who only sees nails.
  2. After awhile, they start to see the downsides. They come across more and more places where the hammer doesn't seem to work.
  3. Eventually they flip to over-focusing on all of the negatives.
  4. Next, they embrace the positive of the other side and then the negatives.
  5. Finally, they begin the cycle again.

Here's where I think we are: we've forgotten the power of intuition.

Humans have been waxing poetic about intuition for eons. Systematically cataloging cognitive biases has only happened in the last few decades. Now, we are in love with talking about how irrational humans are.

Cognitive biases are the bright, new shiny object.

The Bottom Line

Understanding cognitive biases will help you make better decisions. In How One Life Hack From A Self-Made Billionaire Leads To Exceptional Success, I share how self-made billionaire Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's longtime business partner, has systematically counteracted cognitive biases when making investing decisions and how you can do the same with important decisions.

At the same time, intuition will help you make better decisions as well. Intuition is INCREDIBLY powerful on multiple levels:

  • When you understand something intuitively, you can automatically, expertly, quickly, and consistently apply it to your life without even thinking about it.
  • You can train your intuition to be better.
  • But despite the power of intuition, most people stop short of cementing what they learn into their intuition.

That why, I've spent dozens of hours surveying the top books and research on how to train your intuition for our Mental Model Of The Month Club this month. The Club is designed to help you learn faster and make better decisions by teaching you the most useful and universal mental models in the world. As a member, each month, you get a masterclass and an in-depth mastery manual on one new mental model per month.

You can try out the club for just $1 >>