Inside an Executive Mind: The Hidden Power of Intuition in Decision-Making

What to know about what you don’t know you know? We explore the inside of an executive mind and the power of intuition in the decision-making process

Top executives at major firms often find themselves inundated with vast amounts of data when making decisions. Surprisingly, despite the wealth of information, they frequently discover that data alone may not provide clear directives. This realization shows the significance of intuition in the decision-making process.

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the average person makes about 35,000 decisions each day, ranging from routine tasks to complex choices with far-reaching consequences. A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company found that executives estimate they make approximately 20% of their decisions based on intuition—a testament to the nuanced interplay between analytical thinking and gut instinct in the decision-making process.

In the words of psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer , who has studied decision-making among top executives, they “go through all the data they have—and they’re buried under data—and at the end the data don’t tell them what they should do.” Here, intuition is a crucial factor, described as a form of unconscious intelligence. It complements conscious intelligence and becomes indispensable in navigating the complexities that data alone may not fully unravel.

Executives often rely on intuition to distill key insights from the information overload, allowing them to make swift and effective decisions. This unconscious intelligence draws on experience, pattern recognition, and a deep understanding of the industry, providing a valuable perspective that complements the quantitative aspects of decision-making.

Recognizing the role of intuition in executive decision-making emphasizes that successful leaders not only analyse data but also trust their instincts. It’s a nuanced interplay between conscious and unconscious intelligence, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach in steering large organizations through the dynamic and unpredictable landscape of business.

Intuition, often regarded as a subconscious form of knowledge, has intrigued researchers across various disciplines. Neuroscientific studies suggest that intuition may stem from rapid processing in the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex, where emotions and gut feelings play a role.

Research by psychologist Gary Klein highlights that experts in a particular domain often rely on intuitive decision-making, drawing on extensive experience and pattern recognition. Additionally, studies in behavioral economics emphasize the role of intuitive judgments in decision-making, with Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman proposing the dual-system model—where intuition operates alongside deliberate, analytical thinking.

10 High Executives who use the power of their intuition to make decisions

  1. Steve Jobs (Apple): The late co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, was known for his intuitive decision-making. His ability to anticipate consumer needs and shape groundbreaking products like the iPhone and iPad reflected a deep understanding of user experience and an intuitive grasp of market trends.
  2. Richard Branson (Virgin Group): Entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson, is recognized for his instinctive approach to business. From launching unconventional ventures to making strategic acquisitions, Branson’s intuition has played a key role in the success and diversification of the Virgin brand.
  3. Oprah Winfrey (OWN Network): Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has often credited her success to following her intuition. From selecting guests for her talk show to making strategic business decisions, Winfrey’s intuitive insights have contributed to her influence and impact in the media industry.
  4. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway): Renowned investor Warren Buffett is known for combining analytical thinking with intuitive judgment. His ability to identify undervalued stocks and make successful long-term investments reflects a unique blend of financial acumen and gut instinct.
  5. Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX): Entrepreneur and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, is known for making bold decisions based on his intuition. Whether it’s developing electric cars or pursuing space exploration, Musk’s visionary leadership often involves trusting his instincts in the face of uncertainty.
  6. Jeff Bezos (Amazon): Founder and former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has spoken about the importance of intuition in decision-making. From expanding Amazon’s product range to introducing innovative services like Amazon Prime, Bezos’ intuitive approach has been a driving force behind the company’s growth.
  7. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook): Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has demonstrated intuition in steering the social media giant. His vision for the platform’s evolution and strategic acquisitions, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, showcase an intuitive understanding of the evolving digital landscape.
  8. Arianna Huffington (Thrive Global): Media entrepreneur Arianna Huffington has emphasized the role of intuition in her career. As the co-founder of The Huffington Post and founder of Thrive Global, she has made editorial and business decisions driven by her intuitive understanding of audience needs.
  9. Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google): The co-founders of Google, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, have relied on intuition in the development of the search engine giant. From introducing innovative products to shaping the company’s culture, their intuitive decisions have left a lasting impact on the tech industry.
  10. Indra Nooyi (Former CEO of PepsiCo): Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo, has highlighted the importance of intuition in leadership. Her strategic decisions, including the emphasis on healthier products and sustainability, demonstrate an intuitive understanding of changing consumer preferences.

These examples showcase the role intuition plays in the decision-making processes of successful executives across diverse industries.

While scientific evidence supports the existence of intuition, its exact origins remain complex. Some argue that intuition may emerge from the brain’s ability to subconsciously analyze vast amounts of information, leading to rapid, accurate judgments. Others posit that evolutionary processes might have favored individuals with heightened intuitive skills, providing a survival advantage.

The Bottom Line

In essence, the complex connection between neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology contributes to our understanding of intuition, revealing a fascinating intersection of cognition and experience.

Decision-making is a fundamental aspect of human cognition and a cornerstone of success across various domains, from personal choices to corporate strategies. In an era characterized by information overload and rapid technological advancements, the ability to make effective decisions has become both a critical skill and a strategic imperative. The significance of decision-making is underscored by compelling statistics that highlight its impact on individuals and organizations alike.

Understanding the dynamics of decision-making sheds light on the cognitive processes, influencing factors and the role of intuition in shaping outcomes. From the individual’s daily choices to the strategic maneuvers of top executives, the art and science of decision-making weave a tapestry that defines the trajectory of our personal and professional lives.

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Dr Marina Nani
Dr Marina Nani


Dr Nani is the Founder of Sovereign Magazine. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Sovereign's sister publication, Rich Woman Magazine. Passionately advocating for Social Edification, Dr Marina Nani is coining a new industry, MAKE THE NEWS ( MTN) with the aim to diagnose and close the achievement gap globally. Founder of RICH WOMAN SOCIETY™ Marina believes that there is a genius ( Stardust) in each individual, regardless past and present circumstances; "not recognising the talent in each individual, leaves our society at loss. Sharing the good news makes a significant difference on your perception about yourself, your industry and your community."