Working with Intuition
The spiritual journey I've been on most of my adult life deeply influences everything I do, including my business. Especially my business. The choices I make come from intuition far more frequently than how much profit margin something has, what trends dictate, or what appears to be the most reasonable direction to take.
When I opened Harmony Works, my green gift shop and gallery, in 1994, every step my business partner and I took was based on trusting what pulled us intuitively. This unconventional business model dealt its fair share of challenges. There were times I just wanted to pick up a "How to Create a Successful Retail Shop" manual and follow a pre-written formula. Nineteen years later, I'm proud to say that following my intuition has successfully paid off.
Intuition used to be considered too esoteric to base important decisions on, trusted only for "frivolous" choices such as shopping for a new outfit. Now it's as mainstream as a soy latté! These days, intuition is touted as a respected skill in the business world, with esteemed experts writing and lecturing about it. The late Steve Jobs readily admitted to "going with his gut," a sentiment shared by many highly successful people today.
Yet, even with all this fresh new dialogue about intuition, most of us are pretty clueless about what it really is, no less how to tap into it in our heavily left-brain-leaning society.
What's this thing called intuition?
In my years of working with intuition, I have found one definition that really pegs it: "Intuition is knowing you know and not knowing how or why." Intuition is our birthright; it's a hardwired function inside each of us, connecting us to the wisdom of our Higher Consciousness and the Universe. However, since most of us have not been trained to listen to or honor our intuition, we either ignore it, rationalize away what it tells us (since it rarely sounds logical), or immediately buy into fears that prevent us from taking action. In other words, we often don't trust what we are receiving, and this incredibly important aspect of ourselves is discounted or discarded.
Our intuition tries hard to be heard, nagging at us relentlessly, but sadly, it will eventually give up if it's not being listened to. By learning how intuition communicates with us, recognizing what it "feels" like, and trusting the importance of what it's trying to do, it becomes easier to act on information our intuition sends us.
Business intuition sounds almost like an oxymoron—until you consider that business is about resolving problems and intuition is an internal antenna designed to receive truthful answers. Cultivating business intuition, in that light, is potentially the most important skill necessary for success as an entrepreneur.
But, what does it mean to use intuition in business, retailing in particular? Unlike thinking or researching, intuition is rarely—if ever—based on logic, which makes it difficult to trust in a business arena so centered on data and facts.
Intuitive inventory control
For a retail shop owner, there are opportunities galore to utilize intuition every minute of the day. For instance, the first time I attended the New York International Gift Fair, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of booths inviting to be explored. I walked down row after row of vendors, literally becoming dizzy. I was so concerned about missing anything that I zoned out and nearly did miss seeing merchandise that would be a great fit for my store.
I looked over a sea of buyers who seemed to know what they were doing as they carefully scrutinized the wares. Resisting the urge to curl up and take a nap, I relayed a quick request to my intuition: "Please help me find what I need to buy for my shop!" Within minutes, I experienced the strangest sensation of being pulled into a booth I never would have looked at twice. Instead of fighting the urge, I surrendered. Taking a closer look at what I had almost walked by, I was amazed to find a new line perfect for my shop. Something I never would have guessed was an earth-friendly fit for my green store was sitting there just waiting for me to notice. I learned a valuable lesson in that moment: When you feel a strong pull toward something, follow it!
I also have learned the flip side of that lesson: When I feel a strange and perhaps illogical aversion to something, even if I think it's absolutely adorable and just know it will be the next Big Thing, I don't buy it! Recently, at another trade show, I fell head-over-heels in love with a new jewelry line while shopping the trade show. I repeatedly went back to the artist's booth, loving the product even more each time, but I felt a slight hesitancy about ordering. Rationalizing that my indecision must be due to jet lag, I plowed through my out-of-character resistance and placed a rather sizable fourth quarter order.
Three months later the merchandise arrived and I excitedly opened it. As I examined each piece closely, I discovered the work was extremely shoddily made. I had been so excited about this new line at the trade show that I hadn't looked closely enough to see how flawed it was. Since it had a rather high price-point, I knew I would never be able to sell it. The artist wasn't thrilled to take back the order, but I insisted. This was a great lesson in trusting the wiser part of yourself that senses when something is "off." I've had to learn this lesson repeatedly, since it is so illogical, but I always discover later why I should have listened to my always accurate, inner "Sell-o-Meter."
Intuitive customer service
Another handy use for intuitive guidance is the simple act of helping customers. I'm sure you have had shoppers say to you, "I have no idea what to buy for my friend's birthday. Please help!" I used to worry my assistance might be construed as a ploy to make a sale, but I soon began to understand that when people ask for help, they really want to be helped! I have learned to trust my intuition when it guides me to show customers particular products. More often than not, customers are amazed at how astute my selections are. "Oh, this is just so perfect! She'll love it!" The loyalty generated from this kind of intuitive customer service is phenomenal.
There are oodles of other ways to use intuition in business. Product development, space and display planning, stress management, team building, employee hiring, time management, creative ideas, problem solving, and more. I don't think there is anything you couldn't plug a spark of helpful intuition into.
Can intuition and reason go hand-in-hand?
In my experience, the balanced combination of intuition and reason is the most powerful state of being. The first few years of owning my shop were a steep learning curve of balancing those two. Many times I ignored fundamental, smart business practices and veered way over to the spiritual side, such as never having sales or lowering prices because I didn't want to insult my vendors, or constantly giving away merchandise to any "good cause" that walked in asking for donations. Granted, my heart was in the right place, but when my accountant looked at how much we had lost, she read me the riot act. Balance.
Intuition gives the answer you need to have, not always the one that sounds like the rational choice. There is something to be said for creating a mutually supportive partnership with our spiritual and logical sides, each in its place and each knowing when to be the alpha dog. And, of course, we are the ones who determine which side to listen to, although I find there's not much that can't be dealt with from an intuitive place.
Although each step I take is based on trusting my inner guidance, there are times I need the advice of someone with cold, hard business experience. Yet, even though I request logically based information, it still has to pass the scrutiny of my intuition before I follow it. Yes, some business-savvy folks might think my choices are pretty wacky, but my intuitive-based business decisions work out.
Getting in touch with intuition
Intuition is less like "the still, small voice within" than it is a gentle breeze whishing by, leaving before you can grasp hold of or even notice it. The easiest way to access it is by committing to constant self-awareness so you notice your first sense of something. That immediate "knowingness" that something is the right thing to do; that first inclination this is the direction to go; that instant awareness there's something wrong about making this choice, even though logically it seems fine. I emphasize "first" since that is the highest truth before it can be rationalized away and before any of those sneaky sabotaging fears start running amok.
Trusting your intuition takes practice and courage, for sure! This may sound like a catch-22, but the best way to learn to trust intuition is to jump in and trust it! It may take many experiences and experiments to discover how intuition feels to you, especially when the logical mind screams, "This doesn't make sense!" Like exercising a muscle, tapping into your intuition gets easier each time, and it becomes much louder as you honor it.
Intuition happens when you're ready, not a minute sooner
It sounds strange, but the way I learned to develop intuition was by not trusting it and seeing what happened. Enough times feeling pulled to do something and not listening, only to discover later you should have, will be a pie-in-the-face lesson hard to forget!
The Universe is a "Yes Machine." It is required to say "yes" to our requests if we ask with the true intention of receiving an answer. Try asking for your intuition to become "louder" or more concrete. Ask for "signs" or "messengers," those people who drop into your life with something important to tell you, even if they don't realize what their message is. Ask for intuition to show up in your dream state.
I believe we all know what we are supposed to be doing with our lives. Our intuition tells us when we are on track and nudges us in various ways when we are not. It helps us stay in alignment with our greater truths, which makes it a critical component to our unique field of retail business. As we begin to see our work as an important place for personal development, we can understand that intuition can uncover and help actualize the unlimited potential of our life.
The science of intuition
Left-brain research describes intuition as unconscious pattern recognition, emotional intelligence, situational awareness, rapid cognition, and snap decision-making. The basic idea is that the more familiar you are with a subject—the more of an expert you are in a particular field—the more adept you are at identifying patterns instantaneously and acting on them decisively without rational deliberation or conscious data-gathering. For more on the science of intuition, check out Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell and The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work by Gary Klein.
What does intuition “feel” like?
Each of us has our own way of receiving our intuition. It may be:
- A strong pull toward doing something
- A feeling of compassion in a situation, wanting to assist in some way
- “Coincidences” or seemingly serendipitous events your attention is drawn to
- Messengers showing up (noticing what someone is saying and just knowing it is a message for you)
- Signs (suddenly being pulled to notice something and knowing it is a sign for you)
- A strong desire to say something even if it doesn’t make logical sense
- Random messages (e.g., flipping a coin or pulling an answer from a hat—intuition works in strange ways!)
- Sudden flashes of “knowingness”
- The momentary hesitancy when we are about to do something and we pause
When are we most likely to “hear” intuition?
Generally speaking, our intuition doesn’t communicate with words, but rather with sensing, pulling, and “knowingness.” We’re most able to tune in to intuition:
- During meditation or prayer (sometimes during yoga or exercise)
- During the dream state or when half-awake
- During any repetitive, mindless action (the logical mind is put aside so intuition can come through without filters)
- When we are in any kind of trauma or threating situation (our intuition takes over and brings us awareness or direction)
First published in Vol. 27 No. 3 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.