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Friday, August 7, 2009

"Gut check" should be "Gut do"

Zen or not, "gut feeling" and/or intuition is a real unit operating in everybody's decision process. The question is: when to decide based on gut vs when to take the time to find out if the gut is right.

Gut is not an alternative to rational or logical thought. And it should not be confused with "ego". Gut feeling is the preceding process to rational thought. "Gut check" is perhaps a higher method of thought process for which we haven't yet found a procedural explanation as we have for the scientific method and logic-based decision making processes. Most decisions start with a gut feeling. The world is full of anecdotal stories about this: Lavoisier, Newton, and the list is as large as there are human feats - they all started with someone's "gut feeling". The question is, how much time can you afford to find out if your gut is right or wrong.

To this topic of "gut check" I just said this to another entrepreneur and I thought it would be worth sharing:

When your gut is telling you something, believe it it and act on it right away. Don't doubt and don't spend the energy to find out if you are wrong (if your gut is wrong)...99% of the time your gut will be right and spending time to prove yourself right, in this instance, is a HUGE loss. Better be wrong sometimes and never know than be right all the time and find out.

Yes, I will repeat it in short form: when your gut tells you something, do what it's telling you. Finding out and/or proving your gut was right is costly. This is especially true for BAD things.

The biggest flaw an entrepreneur can have is a inquisitive rational brain. This will lead to self-doubt. I know this sounds crazy coming from a guy with two masters and a Ph.D (one for which I followed rigorously the scientific method) but in the world of startups when it comes to decisions where the time and information are not there, this is what I believe is right. Especially for bad things, like firing an employee or deciding on a deal that is somehow making you uneasy, the best is to just not want to invest anything into finding out. Time is an entrepreneur's biggest asset and anything that minimizes time as a cost is a good thing. Gut feeling is a time cost reducer of huge efficacy.

So in short, when you have a "bad feeling" or a doubt, especially in regards to things that are very important, don't go with the "what if I am wrong" or "we will find out" kind of decision that pretty much bypasses what your gut is telling you to do. Paying to find out will lead you down the path of moving ahead towards finding out if you were right or wrong - and here the expression could not be more accurate: you will for sure have PAID to find out (notice the past-tense). Most of the time, you will be right but because the validation of your initial "gut feeling" is a huge loss; it's best not to find out at all.

Never compromise about this. Most people will think you are crazy. Most experts will say you are crazy for doing X or Y if you don't know all the facts (does one ever?). Most people on the other side of the table will try to put doubt in your decision. Most of your investors, and even advisors, will tell you are "capricious" and so forth. DO NOT give in to the temptation. I am not saying you should not listen and that there is no value to what people around you tell you. But that's the role of a leader - make decisions. Startups are not about collecting facts and going on inquisitive research-like quests to find the bottom of the truth. Startups are about progress, results and goals. Most of the time, although I can base this on nothing more than my experience, the good outcomes will have no explanation but I am sure that the bad outcomes we can find a perfect reason for them (after the fact of course - that's my point).

I have many instances where I can go back in my mind and think "I knew it from the start and I was right all along". This might sound ZEN like but I say, listen to your inner self - always! Startups are about dealing with a lot of uncertainty, lack of information, fuzzy conflicting opinions, etc. Rational thinking and logic have a place, but they usually require more time and more information. This is not for the entrepreneur for whom speed and time are everything. At the speed of startup business intuition is not perfect, but then again for a startup perfection is not a deciding criteria (Guy Kawasaki is always stressing this). You are not an entrapreneur to "find out" but rather to achieve. Especially when it's a negative situation being right about knowing it from the start, in the end does not work to your advantage.

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