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  • Thomas Thurston

Intuition is for Scoundrels

Updated: Apr 3

Whenever you hear the words “intuition” and “decision” in the same sentence… run.  Don’t just run, sprint like a third-grader.  Sometimes this will make you look odd, but that’s a risk worth taking.  To warp a line from Bob Dylan – intuition is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings.

Chances are, the difference between your salary and your boss’s (and your boss’s boss’s) is the perceived quality of your intuition.  We all have unique experience and education.  We all think we have a “knack” for things.  We all think we have keen intuition.  Yet some of us have done a better job of convincing others of our superior intuition, and that’s why some of us drive nicer cars.

The sad truth is, despite its prestige, intuition is for scoundrels. 

Not all decisions are based on intuition – some rely on data, fact, science, method, rigor.  Those decisions tend to objectively better, as just about any study of any industry tends to show.  But oddly those aren’t always the kinds of decisions that get you a corner office.  Using data to make a sound prediction that turns out accurate can be seen as somehow… plebian, common, lowly… a “working class” decision of sorts.  “Anyone could have based their decision on reason,” so the thinking seems to go, “but only great people are capable of intuition.”  Translation: there can be an inverse correlation between a decision’s rigor and its potential for career advancement.

Why this stigma for empirical reason?  Why second class status for science?  The dirty secret is that some people we work with – especially those who go around trumpeting intuition – are aware of their fraud.  They have a cushy gig and they know it.  The last thing they want is someone challenging their status with actual knowledge they haven’t cornered or controlled, even if it’s right.  Especially if it’s right.  They’ll do just about anything not to upset their scam.  As Upton Sinclair said, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

So what should you do?  Go around making bad decisions and hope for a promotion?  No, that may work in the short term but is doomed in the long term.  Besides, it would make you a schmuck.  No, the answer is to be robust, rigorous and scientific despite the scoundrels in your midst.  Then, seek out like-minded cohorts regardless of how high or low they sit in the org. chart.  Form a cadre – a secret society of sorts – to rally around the cause of reason.  Like any secret society, beware of spies.  Scoundrels will try to infiltrate and give you resistance wherever possible.  Yet in time, if you’re persistent and keep your wits about you, your ranks will grow and you’ll infect your firm with data, empiricism and rational thought. 

Start a movement.  Above all else, keep the scoundrels at bay.


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