I recently finished reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. After receiving a surprisingly hostile automated email from the UNSW library informing me that I had to return it by Monday, I quickly finished it off over the weekend. Writing a review seemed like an appropriate and logical action to take afterwards, but as I began to shape that review in my head I noticed a strong theme imbued within that review; intuition against logic. And so appropriately, I’m taking the intuitive route, and constructing this piece of writing around that theme.

To set the tone, have a read of the following quote from Jobs I’ve picked out about his return to America after a year-long trip to India:

“Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.

Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.”

The way that Jobs used and trusted his intuition throughout his life completely gripped me. It seems entirely incongruous that you could shape a huge commercial enterprise, based initially around computers of all things, largely on one man’s intuition and instincts, rather than the power of analysis. Many of Jobs’ most incredible breakthrough products came about because he sensed the need for them before others – or saw the opportunity to do them as they should be done. iTunes, iPod, iPhone, the early Macintosh….to name a few.

The process of delivering these products was not based on spreadsheets, financial forecasts or market trends. It was instinctive. He infamously declared market research to be useless, stating that you couldn’t research what people wanted, because you hadn’t shown them it yet. Many of Apple’s marketing techniques were counter to what people expected from the industry. But they really, really worked.

Jobs often had such a precise vision of how things ought to look and feel, and would force people to redesign over and over again until it was just perfect. Often he would struggle to explain it, or give reason to the need for those changes. But as soon as it was right he knew.

There are similarities with Branson, who again explains that many of his best decisions were instinctive. Whenever Virgin was struggling, they would make a bold and risky move based as much on intuition than reason, and it got them out of some enormous holes.

I’ve grown up – as have, I believe, most around me – with the view that reason and logic can conquer all. The notion that you could instead (and dare I say it, would be better off doing so) rely on those things called feelings in order to make decisions and solve problems took me some time to get my head around. Certainly I’ve come to trust my intuition a lot more, and it’s served me very well. Even when it leads to in to a mess, I know that I’m learning and it will get better for it.

Recently, I wrote about mentally healthy living, and the importance of starting with acceptance and awareness of our feelings – as well as how deficiency in these areas can lead to mental illness. This is a kind-of-follow-up to that blog. I hope to illustrate in later blogs that on the other end of the spectrum there are those who are very finely tuned in to their instincts and that their trust in their intuition is so strong that it can lead them to make the right decision when the tide of ‘rational’ opinion is against them. That’s not to say that they don’t ever make mistakes, but doing so actually improves their instincts, rather than puts them off using them.

When I was studying Neuroscience, we had a module on decision-making. A fascinating theme emerged from the research; that even when people make impulsive decisions they do not recognize that this is so. They dress them up in logic and reason, when their actual motive was instinctive. Sometimes the logic was amusingly flawed, and yet they were convinced of it.

Intuition and instinct do have a big part to play in the modern world – bigger, perhaps, than society currently acknowledges. I think forms of meditation, such as mindfulness, can really facilitate these attributes. It’s a huge subject and I’ve barely even scraped the surface of it here, but I hope it’s piqued a little interest. Plus, if Einstein digs intuition (what a man), then it’s got to have some value.

So go and be more instinctive! Put that pesky voice of reason aside and see what happens.