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A series of tweets about data and intuition prompted an intriguing conversation and a direct question about my understanding of intuition.

I’ll start by saying what intuition is not.
Intuition is not habit or acquired skill. That is analytical.
It is not fear or passion. This is emotion.
It can be differentiated from instinct, which is survival oriented and physiological. Our bodies gives us feedback about instinct.
Intuition is a deeper knowing and is more closely connected with spirit.  We can tap into our intuition through meditation, by connecting with nature and disconnecting from the machines and devices to which we are so often tethered, in our dreams, or through whatever spiritual practice you may follow.  Intuition is a connection with our selves, our core, our souls, and our energy.

Intuition is critical for making decisions about the unknown, uncertain future. Trend analysis, pattern recognition, extrapolation and other predictive models use past data to predict the future, yet we qualify these opinions saying that past performance is not a good predictor of future performance. The latter is true because there is no such thing as a future fact.

Analysis as an information input into our decision-making about the future is limited because you cannot analyze something that has not yet happened. Even emotions are biased by past experiences. How do you feel something that hasn’t happened yet? Instinct is about survival, avoiding known dangers. Instinct is physiological and our physiology adapts to dangers we have experienced. But that too also relies on past experience.

Analysis and emotion help narrow the field and rule out alternatives. Instincts keep us alive and safe from danger. But for complex decisions about the unknown, uncertain future where other unknown factors could affect outcomes, we need some other input to guide our decisions. The information we need comes from intuition.

Intuition is the only forward looking input. It allows us to fill in gaps in information about future personal responses to outcomes. It is particularly useful in choosing partners, places to live, and anything relationship oriented – whether the relationship is with ourselves or others. Intuition helps mediate between competing goals and desires and enables us to make a choice that optimizes our decision.

I have trusted my intuition in making decisions about career path, my partner, relocation, and who to work with because I integrate analysis about the situation, emotions draw me to what I know or away from what I fear, and intuition leads me towards the grand opportunities I do not yet have any evidence of. How could I possibly know all there is to know about a career path in investment banking before entering that industry? How could I know all there is to know about my husband before we married? How could I know all there is to know about London or Vancouver before I relocated halfway around the world?

Try it out for yourself. Look back upon a big, possibly life-changing decision you made that involved your relationship with yourself or others and reflect upon what drove your decision. Was it a lot of analysis? Did your emotions guide your decision? An instinct to survive? Or something else? How did you respond to outcome of that decision? Did the numbers stack up afterwards? Did you feel elated or disappointed about the outcome?

Try it out in relation to a current decision you face. Start by clearing your mind – meditation or a walk through a natural environment helps. Reflect on what your analytical brain thinks, what your emotions sense, and what your body feels. Then ask what your intuition tells you. Optimized decisions are when all four are in sync. We make decisions when all four are not in sync, however being aware of which is leading the decision – be it analysis, emotion, body, or intuition – creates fewer surprises when we experience the outcome.

I apply integrating decision-making to investing because investing is inherently a future-oriented activity. How could I know all there is to know about the entrepreneurs and ventures I’ll be investing in? I can analyze the opportunity and the entrepreneurs. I can be aware of how I feel about them. My intuition fills in the gaps and guides me towards the future outcomes I’m seeking.

The biggest challenge we face at the moment are the outcomes resulting from decisions that were over-weighted by analysis. We get outcomes that make sense analytically (aka the numbers stack up). However, there is something dissatisfying and not sufficiently nurturing about them. This is the problem in business and in the investment sector in particular. Investment decisions are too analytical. They actually do not encompass enough emotion nor intuition. The solution is not a bifurcation of the investment into “conventional” investments and impact investing or socially responsible investing. What we actually need is integrated investing – the integration of information from analysis, emotion, intuition, and body into our investment decisions. That integration will lead to integrated outcomes that satisfy our analytical, emotional, intuitive, and physical needs – outcomes that enable economic viability, prosperity, and the thriving lives and communities we all seek.