Sensing vs Intuition in Organisations

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Alice and Harry go to see a counselor for help. Alice says that she is fed up with Harry’s unrealistic approach to life. "Why just the other day," she said, "I was looking after the bills and I said 'we have only $10 in the bank!' Do you know what he said? He just leaned back in his chair and said, 'Wouldn’t it be lovely to go to Bermuda for a vacation?' How could he say that? I said, 'Don’t be stupid! I just said we have only $10 in the bank!'"

Harry jumps in: "I didn’t mean that we should try to go there now. I just meant what I said -- wouldn’t it be lovely to go there for a vacation?"

"But why say such a stupid thing?" Alice responds.

"I was daydreaming, that's all."

"That is what he does all the time," said Alice. "He spends all his time in the clouds. I don’t understand how he can be so unrealistic." This is an example of sensing and intuition at war, differences which sometimes lead to divorce. And, strangely enough, the same issues arise in business, with most of the same symptoms and types of consequences.

The practical, down-to-earth sensing boss gets frustrated with his intuitive co-worker. I said last week that companies could be extroverted or introverted, but companies can also be predominantly sensing or intuitive. Let's look a little closer so we can see where your company fits.

Sensing operations tend to:

  • Be at their best dealing with details
  • See the future as more of the present
  • Emphasize organized targets and plans
  • Be trusting of experience and authority

Does this fit your organization? Such organizations tend to put everyone with the same experience or training in the same section. The problem that develops is that different sections of the company fight for power and control with other parts of the company. The lawyers can't get along with the engineers. The graphic designers cannot get along with the sales people. Of course, everyone thinks they are right and just need to "get through" to the others.

On the other hand, an organization can be intuitive, and such a company tends to:

  • Be at their best dealing with the overall picture
  • Be able to spot trends before they emerge
  • Believe the future is not set but can be created out of their own creativity
  • Trust their insight

Does this describe your organisation any better? Intuitive organizations tend to be tied into their vision of the future and what can be made to happen with it. The best example I know of is Apple under the control of Steve Jobs. I recently watched a program about him where the announcer said that Jobs had learned from experience that most organizations had a vertical structure (that is, were typical sensing companies), where when the designers were finished with their work, the engineers took over and made a lot of changes which undid a lot of the designer's work, and so on with the advertisers, and the sales people. I understood that he solved this dilemma with an intuitive solution. He mixed all the different kinds of specialists in all the different departments so that a wide gamut of people had to work on certain projects at the exact same time.

However, intuitive bosses can be very frustrating for sensing office managers and partners. They tend to be disorganized, illogical, have very poor time management and --in short-- often function off the top of their heads. But when they come up with a brilliant solution like Jobs, than everything else is unimportant, perhaps even forgiven.

This can be contrasted with a sensing, vertical company structure like that of Microsoft under Gates and Ballmer. As opposed to Apple, which trades in unlikely upcoming trends and innovations, Microsoft now adheres to an overall, long-term plan organized with a top-down power structure, carefully compartmentalised by skills and divisions. Apple's business model not only allows for, but actually thrives on intuition, agility and radical ideas (many of which may seem silly or ill-researched, on the surface), whereas Microsoft tends to be bureaucratic, a proliferation of cogs and sprockets in a gigantic machine that plods carefully in a forward direction, relying upon its carefully-calculated roadmap.

It might be helpful to ask yourself which kind of company you work for... and where you are most happy and efficient. Good hints, indeed, to the type of person you are.

Henry Sharam

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