The Dangerously Good Skill Used By Top Soldiers, Race Car Drivers, Steve Jobs, and You...
In the brilliant HBO Series “Watchmen” my favorite character is Angela Abraham, the retired female cop played by Regina King. She’s an intelligent and strong black woman, wife, and mother by day who dons a different outfit as “Sister Night” to become a vigilante badass by night.
In her family and social life, she’s an authentic realist who speaks her mind and sticks up for her loved ones. When kicking in doors to subdue criminals, she relies on her speed and lethal skills to defeat her opponent. In the heat of battle, her mind and body are moving too fast to rely on anything other than intuition to survive. Fortunately for her, she’s got the best instincts in town.
Watching Angela Abraham reminded me of a US Navy study on how soldiers could improve their “sixth sense” or intuitive ability during combat and other missions. Lieutenant Commander Brent Olde of ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department for Human and Bioengineered Systems told Time magazine in 2014 when they reported on the Office of Naval Research’s four-year $3.85 million research program to understand premonition and intuition, “If we can characterize this intuitive decision-making process and model it, then the hope is to accelerate the acquisition of these skills.”
Time To Step On The Gas
One of the factors that accelerates your intuitive decision-making is what’s called “implicit memory.” This is the type of memory that uses past experiences to remember things without having to stop and think about them.
You use implicit memory already. Every time you drive a car, ride a bike, or go somewhere you’ve been before without the aid of GPS, your implicit memory is in control.
The more you do something the more your implicit memory or “know-how” gets stored. So, it’s not surprising that intuition tends to be strongest when people are doing things they’ve practiced a lot.
British Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton — a six-time World Champion at the time of this writing, can sense exactly when he will need to brake when traveling two-hundred miles an hour into an on-coming corner.
Hamilton knows this because his nervous system has remembered what it feels like and has encoded that memory to trigger the action of braking at precisely the right time for optimal performance. His implicit memory has hard-wired him to brake as late as possible to avoid disaster while maintaining speed. Without this intuitive ability, Hamilton’s car would either be in the wall or out of poll position more often than not.
You and I will never be as fast as Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, but we have other abilities coded into our DNA that can make us smooth instinctual machines the more we learn to trust them.
Think of your implicit memory as your brains version of technology automation. The more skills you can automate the more efficient you’ll become.
Concrete Versus Abstract Thinking
People who play it safe always make decisions based on logic (the facts they are presented with). Logic is predictable; it’s concrete, based on known formulas—and in certain situations, it is absolutely necessary. The problem with always taking the logical approach is that it's slow and (when facts are insufficient) not always complete.
However, when you learn to put your intuition muscles to allow more abstract thinking with your instincts, you will find yourself capable of making faster, smarter, more creative decisions than everyone else around you.
Logic is best when balancing a budget or building an automated workflow—but when you’re trying to innovate, logic will keep compelling you to re-build whatever worked before. Too much of that leads to creative stagnation and the danger of irrelevance.
Steve Jobs, one of the most innovative technology CEOs of all time, said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”