Believe Your Gut Feeling

Kai-Fu Lee wrote an article of “Follow your heart” when he left Microsoft and joined Google. I was told the same thing today. To me, that translates to “Believe your gut feeling”.

That is just not Right

Sometimes, we have to admit how weak the rational logic and reasoning are when making complicated decisions. Sometimes, when you have already thought for many times, and have already made a decision, and the decision is well-informed, data-proven, and perfect-logic, you just about to make a decision, but at the last minute, you feel something is not right. It just does not FEEL right. You don’t know why it is that way, but you just have that gut feeling. Can I call it intuition (BTW, I am an Intuition type of person – ENFP)?

Buying a House

It is just like buying a house. Sometimes, when you go to a new house, and you immediately liked it. You just like it so much that you know this is the place you want to live. But, there is a problem – it is too expensive. The other house, according to the influential analysts, has the best ROI, best location, best design, and is very cheap, but you just don’t feel good about it. My own experience told me, follow the gut feeling is the safest way to make these decisions.


I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell, the author of book Tipping Point, and Blink – the power of thinking without thinking. In his book Blink, he told the story that reflects what I feel.

Blink started with the story of the marble statue which is claimed to be made from the sixth century BC. The price they asked for is $10 million to sell it. The museum did all the possible research on it, and everything from style match, to X-ray detection to calcite exam… Everything they did proved that the marble is truly made many centuries ago in Athens.

However, the problem is, despite of all the hard evidence, people still feel it seems wrong to them. They can not tell what is wrong, but it just seems to be — “fresh”.

The whole book started with this story and explain why the fake statue survived in all rational and modern test, but just cannot fool people’s eyes – even at a blink.

People Recognize Patterns, but Logic and Reasoning is Limited

Blink continued to explore the reason why it happens. There are example like the blue and red card. The simplified version is like this (I just cannot remember the real numbers, and experiment – just made up some illustrative numbers. Refer to Blink if you want to know the real case).

The volunteers were given two piles of cards. Each consists of random blue and red cards. Participants can pick cards from any of the piles randomly. If they get a blue card, they get $100, but if they get a red one, they lose $200. The reality is, there are 30% blue cards on the left pile, and 70% of blue cards on the right pile. Most of people can find out the right pile is the best choice after getting about 30 cards. However, the physical test shows that as early as the first 10 cards, the heart beats will fasten and sweat appears hands when they reach out to the left pile.

The experiment tells people that the brain (or the body if you want to say it that way) already knows the reality, without the brain realize it. It is the sub-conscious, instead of the conscious.

That explains the reason of many “gut feeling”. It is a feeling that you know, but still have a hard time to explain it. Really experienced people can turn the sub-conscious thinking to conscious thinking, but “gut feeling” is always the one you need to consult for really complicated situation, especially when people is involved.

So, from time to time, checking gut feeling is the right thing to do to run a great business, although you should not build the whole business intelligence on the gut feeling of very few people.

P.S. At the same time, Chris has been in the International Space Station for several days, and has just directed the space walk. He is lucky to be the 500th man in outer space! I am looking forward to the same return of Chris, and looking forward to having him join us at YLF in November in Xia’men.

4 thoughts on “Believe Your Gut Feeling

  1. If I were a VC with money in your company, I’d shake my head.

    I see your point. But, wait, is Kai-Fu’s heart or your gut feeling as good as that mentality behind a girl’s love at first sight?

    If you cannot prove that a successful romance results from first sight more than 50 out of 100 times statistically or anecdotally, please return my money if it is out of lock-up period.

  2. Err… dont’ really agree with this. I only listen to my gut when I am hungry. Your example of buying a houes is not about gut feelings. It’s about knowing what you can afford and not taking a bite that will choke you to death later.

    Following the heart is a luxury better left to those who have more than satisfied their basic needs. A responsible person acts objectively. The last thing his family need is for him to lead them on a voyage to the mosquito coast.

  3. I read Blink and I agree in general with this post. But it depends on your starting point. If you are an irrational person that acts on impulse and doesn’t listen to your own reason or common sense, or the advice of others who know better, then “follow your heart” is bad advice. But when you are talking about people who are educated to follow reason and, in fact, to worship the capabilities of our own intelligence, then “trust your gut feeling” is great advice.

    What Kai-Fu and WJS are saying is to *complement* your analysis with your “instincts” because your brain is processing information on an entirely different level from your conscious, rational part of your mind. That part of your brain needs to be considered carefully.

    Where I think one should apply this rule is especially in the area of hiring. The few times that I ignored my feeling that there was something wrong with the candidate, even though I did not exactly know why (or I could not exactly articulate it), I later found that the problem or the poor fit was actually there and I should have “trusted my gut”

    Again, it depends on your starting point. Most analytic people fail to consider their instinct in their decisions.

  4. All I know, whenever I have gone against my “gut” feelings I ended up in the wrong relationship or purchase. I tend to listen to my “gut”. If it feels right it is.

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