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20 Sep 2012

Intuition in Problem Solving: A Compass

Someone once said to me that you can’t find your way if you don’t know where you are. I countered that that would mean a compass would be useless to you. That’s not true.

Unfortunately, when people talk about intuition in problem solving, then tend to think it should be as specific as cognition is. If it were, it wouldn’t be intuition. Intuition plays more of an introductory role in our thinking and behavioral processes. In this sense, our intuition acts as a compass. When we’re lost we have any number of directions to explore. A compass helps to narrow our selection. Intuition does the same in problem solving.

Many, many forces influence us without our conscious knowledge. On the knowledge map, we might feel these influences as awareness or knowing without having any proof or quantification to support them. These forces also influence our thought processes and encourage us to find rationales to support them.

Typically, we will experience these as feelings or sensations to:

  • Talk to a certain person or people
  • Analyze certain information
  • Visit a certain department, office or facility
  • Attend an certain event
  • Perform a certain analysis or experiment
  • Collect certain information

Now, I’m not referring to the normal, routine feelings that come about as a result of a planned problem-solving approach or one that conforms to a certain methodology. These feelings will encourage you to deviate from that process or plan. Since processes reduce flexibility, it’s important that we don’t become so focused that we ignore the opportunities posed by our intuition. Spontaneity and flexibility are important problem-solving attributes even if it simply means a “chance” encounter that aides us.

Next time you get that feeling to go off-process or off-plan, do it. Experiment!


4 Responses

  1. Over the course of this past year, I have become quite a fan of the works of David Whyte. He’s an English poet, author, and speaker. I usually digest books quickly, however, I haven’t been able to do that with his book, ‘The Heart Aroused: Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America.’ There is simply not enough room or time to try to share how much it resonates with me.

    When I read this post again this morning, I recalled one of the poems David recited in a video I saw on youtube. It’s an excerpt on ‘Preserving the Soul’.


    What they are discussing in this interview falls uncannily into what you are sharing here about intuition and compass or ‘direction’.

    One of the 1st things David addresses is some lines of Dante from the Divine Comedy (divina comedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_Comedy

    ‘In the middle of the road of my life
    I awoke in a dark wood
    where the true way is wholly lost.’ ~Dante

    Then he ends the interview by reciting a poem by David Wagoner called Lost. I live in Washington state and so this made it all the more intriguing as the poem is based on the advice an elder Indian would give a child if they were to become lost in the woods here in Washington.


    Stand still
    The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost.
    Where ever you are is called ‘here’.
    And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.
    You must ask permission to know it and be known.

    The forest breathes
    It whispers, ‘I have made this place around you.
    If you leave it you may come back again saying ‘here’.’
    No two trees are the same to raven.
    No two branches are the same to wren.
    If what a tree or a branch does is lost to you,
    Then you are surely lost.

    Stand still
    The forest knows where you are.
    You must let it find you.

    You must let it find….you.

    Applied in modern times, it has everything to do with learning how to find our way by tapping into a more intuitive sense of things.

    I hope you find it just as interesting as I did! 🙂

    1. Samantha, thank you for the poetry and links. Here is a link to white paper I wrote on intuition. It’s three pages and includes a scene from Star Trek The Next Generation.

      The poem automatically made me recall a man who lives in Colorado and calls the weather for the skiers. However, he doesn’t use radar or any other technical equipment. He just goes out and looks at the trees, the vegetation and any animals he finds (or doesn’t find). Apparently, he is more accurate in calling the snowfalls than any traditional weather person in the area.

      The poem also made me recall the advice escaped slaves were given in moving North at night: the moss on tress only grows on the north side.

      I also like Dante’s Inferno. Tangerine Dream did a musical interpretation of the book. I have both the book and the CD.


  2. Thanks for sharing your pdf on intuition, Mike! Great info and loved all the analogies! Especially the example from Star Trek and the glass filled with sand and water. Certainly makes it easier to understand intangible concepts when we can visualize them in tangible ways.

    Your mention of the man in Colorado who plays the role of a human weather detector is intriguing! I makes me want to know if he has long hair or short hair! Now please bear with me on what may seem a silly question. However, I read an article somewhere and cannot recall the source, yet it was on some study that was done on I believe it was the intuitive senses of men with long hair vs. short hair! I”m going by memory here so I’m sure I’m leaving out a ton of details, yet I’m recalling something about reference to the Indians who made excellent trackers. They kept long hair. The study revealed that men with long hair were more sensitive to their surroundings as opposed to men with short hair or no hair. Are you familiar with any studies along these lines?

    Of course, there is also the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. According to the story, Samsons strength was tied to his hair and once Delilah cut it, he lost his power. haha Makes me wonder! 🙂

    And thanks for sharing the link to Tangerine Dream.


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