While in the midst of trademarking an algorithm and related AI model our company uses to optimise employee productivity, I received an email from our attorney, detailing considerations from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Before I had even finished reading the message, an idea popped into my mind, and found myself dialling the number of one of my company co-founders.
As he answered, I blurted out that we should change the name of our leadership app. To my colleague, the suggestion came completely out of the blue and was void of any context, while from my side, the phone call was purely a reaction to what I had read in my inbox. Without any real thought or consideration, I was proposing a significant change to our company that had never been on the cards.
The question is, was I acting on impulse or was it intuition?
Just as a fine line exists between genius and madness, an equally fine line exists between impulse (acting without thinking) and intuition (understanding without thinking or conscious reasoning). The difference between them is subtle, and discerning between the two requires close attention.
In both instances, the brain is acting without thinking. However, while an impulse is a reaction, intuition is an understanding — it is essentially the brain on autopilot. When you think intuitively, your brain processes information without you being consciously aware of it. It is instinctive understanding based on experience and cumulative knowledge.
Now, gut reactions can be as brilliant as they are dangerous, but my reaction to the email wasn’t one of my better ones. In fact, quite frankly, when I opened the email from our attorney, my gut wasn’t even working. I wasn’t relying on my intuition, I was being impulsive, and as my colleague and I talked it through, I quickly realised that I was acting without thinking.
Fortunately, I thought better of the idea, but if we had gone through with the name change for our app, it could have been a dangerous knee-jerk reaction.
When you act on impulse, you’re reacting immediately and subconsciously to an external trigger — an emotion, a place, a person. You don’t pause, sit down and analyse what’s happening or what the impact could be, you just go for it.
It’s a shot in the dark that seems perfectly clear for a fleeting moment. Then, reality sets in and you’re forced to course-correct. Impulse is an impelling force or emotion that will trigger some kind of reaction from you. In effect, it is something that overpowers your being and controls you.
When an idea pops into your head and you take instant action, intuition isn’t guiding you. Instead, you’re being guided by impulsivity, which is often laced with fear. That is what happened to me on this occasion.
When I read the considerations from our attorney, a subtle fear crept into my mind and that drove me to act impulsively. All of a sudden, I was afraid that our application for the trademark wouldn’t be approved and that fear made me jump into action.
The challenge — and indeed the confusion — is that both intuition and impulse are based on feeling and they both generally lack proof. As a result, you shouldn’t rely on gut instinct alone to guide your decision-making, and it is important to learn how to separate out the understanding that comes with intuition, from the reacting that accompanies impulse.
In my case, my intuition was telling me to make sure that our trademark application would be approved — and that intuition was sound. However, my impulsive reaction was wrong.
To get it right, allow your intuition to help make sense of a situation so that you can devise a plan of action, and allow the automatic information processing that underlies intuition to carry on. But press pause on reacting impulsively.
— Tommy Weir is the CEO of EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org