Back when I first started my business, I had a DE customer that made wild karate uniforms, they had crazy (fun) style lines converging over the fronts that formed a pattern when the gi was belted. Being that the patterns were asymmetrical, it mattered that each side of the pattern pieces were labeled properly. Just before I was ready to ship, I noticed that the gi in the sketch was belted incorrectly, right over left rather than the reverse and the style lines were designed accordingly -and I made the pattern to match the sketch. This meant the designer made a simple error but that I needed to reverse the labeling of the pieces (a five minute correction to the pattern) to prevent a disaster but that wasn’t something I was going to do without client approval. I was new at freelancing and very intimidated because the clients were very officious and professional, using forms and specs that no small operations were doing at the time. So, I emailed the guy and asked about the position change, merely a perfunctory matter I thought. He wrote and said he’d ask the designer. He wrote again later to say she said to leave it as it was. I got a bad feeling about it. Correction, I’d been having bad feelings all along but there wasn’t anything I could pin it on. If this went through, they could lose a lot of money. Something wasn’t right.
My introduction comes as the subject of intuition has arisen for the third time in as many days. Not intending for this to become the subject of polemic debate so you’re perfectly free to disagree but I don’t think there’s such a thing as intuition. In terms we typically define it, intuition is a gut level impression we get about a person or situation and for which we are at a loss to understand why.
I think there’s more to it than that and I should say that I didn’t come up with this theory, I read it ages ago somewhere but understanding the mechanisms of intuition allows me to move from indecision to informed understanding. I’ve dodged more bullets than I can count with this process that I’ll show you now.
The brain is a marvelous thing. You’ve got awareness in the fore part and the ability to articulate your interpretation of what’s going on in the environment. The back of the brain has some amazing stuff going on too only it can’t talk to the forepart so you don’t know the conclusions it has drawn from the environment. It’s when the back of the brain has put cues together that you get a gut sense or feeling of intuition. To make the most of it, you need to learn how to read your back brain to harvest the messages it has put together.
Example: your child clumsily attempts to conceal something the minute you walk in the room. That’s a cue. You’ve learned to associate the child’s reaction to your presence as meaning that the situation requires further investigation. There’s no intuition involved for you to know that because you’ve learned to interpret this cue.
But what of cues that your fore brain hasn’t learned to articulate? Or hasn’t learned that given cues are indicative of requiring further investigation or analysis? That’s “intuition”. Here’s an example of that.
You go out to dinner with somebody you’re thinking of doing business with. They are pleasant enough, the details seem equitable but your intuition tells you something is amiss. Problem is, there’s nothing your fore brain can interpret as being a rational cause of discomfort but still, your dis-ease persists. I know what many people (most of them women) do, because you can’t articulate exactly what’s bugging you, you elect to give them the benefit of the doubt because that’s the only fair thing to do. Right? Well, maybe you shouldn’t. First you should try to pull cues from the situation which can help the back brain to communicate. Rationally. By way of example, I’ll continue with my story I opened with.
Part of me thought that I’d done my part, I was absolved of responsibility because the customer wanted the patterns as is even though they were based on a bad sketch. My gut kept saying don’t deliver the work -and it wouldn’t budge (I was now filled with dread) because none of this made sense. Why would a customer want a bad pattern? First thing I did was validate my intuition. Starting from a position of agreeing with it turned the situation on its head. In order for me to lose, the client would be getting a big gain. But how could that be? If this went through as is, they could lose big time. Something wasn’t right.
So I sat down and made a list of things that bugged me about this customer. Anything and everything whether it “mattered” or had anything to do with the job. I had a sense that even if I did as asked, this would end up burning me somehow. My intuition was telling me I could still be hurt so in writing the list, I was hoping to figure out how that could happen.
One thing that bugged me was all the specs they sent. Beautiful forms, gorgeous letterhead with detailed specs but you know, they were all wrong. But because it looked so official (and I was intimidated being new at freelancing), I wasted a lot of hours I didn’t charge for going through it line by line because it wasn’t adding up. I thought it was me, that I was missing something so I was trying to find a way to make their way work.
The second thing was how the enterprise was run, it didn’t seem congruent. The local guy claimed to be the production manager. The big time designer (never named) worked out of offices in NY. Ditto for the CEO. The local guy ran interference and was the only one I had contact with. This didn’t make sense. Patterns work directly with design, you need ongoing communication so being kept at arms length and constantly having to go through intermediaries didn’t make sense. The local guy could never answer a question or clarify directly. He always had to get back to the CEO or designer first. It didn’t make sense that he had no discretion to run a job. If his higher ups didn’t trust him, why did they hire him? Meaning, so not only should I not trust him, I shouldn’t trust them either.
There were a few other things that were “immaterial” (like needing new patterns for styles that had already been produced before he came to me) but my sense of dread was so strong that I decided I wouldn’t turn these patterns over. The minute I made the decision, I felt a huge wash of relief. Which was strange because I needed the money desperately. Before I had time to tell the client, I got an email from him saying that all invoices would be paid 30 days after receipt, that previous arrangements were rescinded. Since I’d already made my decision to refuse to deliver (but not looking forward to saying so) I wrote back and said his company didn’t have the right to determine my business’s payment policies. I reiterated I would be paid upon delivery or I could send the invoice which they could pay in 30 days and then I’d deliver the patterns afterward. He became irate (a whole other story) but neither of us would budge. Which was fine for me because I didn’t have to tell the client I wasn’t going to deliver their work anyway.
So this is how it all turned out -it took several years to get the whole story but it didn’t begin to unravel until 6 weeks later when the contractor called me wanting to know if I’d been paid because she hadn’t gotten her check (she had gone along with the new payment policy). We did a little leg work and found the guy left town (no forwarding address) after picking up the last production run. It was only several years after that when I connected with his El Paso contractor to get the story on what happened before he came to us. His previous pattern maker said he had similar reservations about pattern specs and had suggested explicit changes which the client declined. But he delivered the patterns anyway which burned him with the contractor because the client told the contractor the pattern maker had messed up and would the contractor fix the patterns because he wasn’t going to pay the pattern maker for his mistakes (handily, he provided the itemized list from the pattern maker). What a slime. It’s one thing to not pay but it’s quite another thing to impute someone’s reputation to get out of paying. Also, there was no designer or CEO with corporate offices in NY, just the local guy. He’d come to me and my contractor friend after he’d burned his bridges in El Paso for non payment which is why he needed new patterns for existing styles because the contractor kept them as a lien.
In the end I lost money for doing work I wasn’t paid for. I still have those patterns too; anyone want a gi? However, my reputation didn’t take a hit which would have been insult to injury. The point of the whole story is that I used what I thought was intuition as a exercise to sort my misgivings into clarity with rational non-subjective reasons to extricate myself from the situation.
The next time you have a bad feeling, you need to map it. Clear your mind and write down any and every single misgiving you have no matter how stupid, trivial, childish or irrelevant to the situation. Things like, do they salt their food before they even taste it? You don’t want to be involved in manufacturing or engineering with someone who does that, no way no how (long story). Many things may seem like emotional reactions that have nothing to do with business or being fair or open minded -you know, giving the benefit of the doubt in the absence of proofs. These are cues your inarticulate deep brain has put together in a pattern but does not have the means to tell your front brain. As you do this, more things will occur to you that you hadn’t recognized before. You won’t get too far into it before you realize that a pattern has emerged and your course of action is clearer.
The point is, if you have a gut reaction without rational reasons, your deep brain is trying to tell you it has put the cues together. Give it a chance to speak so you can move forward decisively without feeling guilty that you haven’t given someone the benefit of the doubt.