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2. Feb 2023

The Return On Intuition (R.O.I.)

by Lisa Sibbing
Eine weiße Papp Box auf einem Tisch

Intuition is the feeling that makes us know certain things without understanding how or why. We experience strong inner insights towards (or away) from people, situations or future decisions which we cannot explain. At many times, these insights prove to be right. However, often this inner voice gets drowned out by the mind chatter, ego or the need for arguments.

I want to advocate for more intuition in strategy. Because whilst algorithms earn our trust, human intuition seems under threat. Data-backed decisions are comfortable, as it puts black on white what concrete possible outcomes are. But how can we convince people what the outcome of our intuitive feeling will be? Or in other words: what is the R.O.I.: Return On Intuition.

The Intuition Dictionary: Where does intuition come from?

Inner-knowing, wisdom or our guts: however we call it, these definitions have something in common. Their insights come from our own internal sets of big data. Science has shown that our body saves every experience, failure and lesson learned, in our subconscious mind. Our intuition looks closely at this deep memory to send us conclusions in split seconds in the form of a feeling. This makes intuition knowledge that feels like emotion.

From an historical perspective, we have always done things based on our intuition and instinct. Analytical thinking is only a very young department in our brain. In his book ‘Realtime: The Art of Intuitive Thinking’, Michael Matthias writes that “our analytical thinking is from the perspective of evolution still very young, the teenager of our brain, so to speak”.

And although only in the puberty of our brains, analytics outperform our ‘internal set of big data’ in some problems. This is the case when problems have clear patterns, objective criteria and much data to perform an analysis. Think about the weather forecast, which pops up on the news after combining various data-sources. It would be very difficult for any individual weather professional to make an accurate intuitive judgment on the weather the next 14 days in Barcelona.

However, for unstructured problems, intuition earns a seat around the table. What are unstructured problems? Think about dealing with challenging people-related situations, choosing the right title for a book or political strategies on how to sell your idea. Challenges without clear decision rules or objective criteria. In these situations without routine, we can make space for our inner wisdom. Intuitive sparks are quick, have a sense of novelty and bring creative solutions to the table. It is those ideas you have when you are under the shower. And what makes these split seconds valuable, is that our minds didn’t have time to come up with “reasons why not” yet. However, in my lobbying for intuition we stumble upon a few challenges:

Challenge 1: Recognizing and trusting our intuitive voices.

In contrast to analytical thinking, our intuition doesn’t have such a loud voice. And although “I should not have listened to my intuition” is something you won’t hear many people say, many intuitive feelings drown under lack of trust from the start.

If we don’t dare to create space for intuitive feelings, how should it deliver value?

Challenge 2: Intuition speaks another language.

The intuitive insight is not a challenge in itself. The challenge only begins when we want to use it as an argument for decision-making. We could say intuition ‘knows it all’, but once we want to communicate about our intuitive insight, we lack the convincing vocabulary or proof points. This makes intuition easy to challenge and hard to defend.

If we can’t explain to others why something is that way with logic, how do we get people on board?

Challenge 3: Intuition doesn’t deliver hard facts to save your ass.

The bigger the scale, the higher the risk of our decisions. Can you imagine Richard Lutz of Deutsche Bahn ‚doing strategy‘ purely on his guts? With more than 300.000 employees and political consequences, there is quite a lot at stake. If things unfortunately turn out differently than expected, there won’t be a „well science or data shown differently…“ in the newspapers.

How do we make the right decisions, when we can’t access all the information we need to guarantee ourselves certain success?


The return on intuition is not measurable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not invaluable. When giving intuition a seat around the table, we have to treat it differently. I want to suggest three intuitive solutions to help us forward:


Solution: Artificial Intelligence? Human Intelligence!

When artificial intelligence (A.I.) gives us advice or direction, it is impossible to understand how the A.I. arrived there. Algorithms are too complex for our minds to understand. This is something that is now widely accepted by decision-makers, agree? Just like A.I., Intuition is not a process of our minds either. With an output that is often proven as right, can’t we similarly trust intuition? Let’s make space for human intelligence.


Solution: Intellect needs arguments, intuition needs a narrative.

When we can’t convince people with evidence, we can use storytelling. When you don’t have the data to gather people behind you, transform your intuitive decision into an exciting vision. After all, strategy was never fully objective.


Solution: Thinking with our hearts and feeling with our heads.

Maybe our question shouldn’t be whether rational reasoning is better than intuitive decision-making. The question is rather how both can be best combined. We have to find the courage to trust our internal set of big data as well as our external available data and let them complement each other.

Thinking with our hearts:
We let our intuition create a hypothesis and test the feeling with data. Moving from “I feel that many customers will like this feature” to „let’s do a user testing with N=200“.

Feeling with our heads:

If we have all rational arguments on the table, we can feel with our own experience if there is anything standing in the way of moving forward.

I want to advocate for more intuition in strategy. So next time when we want to follow our guts, let’s ask ourselves:

Do I allow enough space for intuitive feelings?

Can I sell my feelings with a narrative?

And did I feel with my head and think with my heart?