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After a long interview process, you’ve been offered a job, but can’t shake the feeling it’s the wrong move. Or your brother wants you to join him in buying a franchise, and everything in you is screaming: “Yes, the world needs more juice bars!” Chances are good that’s your intuition speaking. And chances are even better that it’s not telling you the whole truth.
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Researchers, who have been trying to decode intuition for decades, have proven that we do have an inner sixth sense that speaks to us, sometimes with uncanny reliability. Experiments have shown that when people are given a “lucky” deck of cards stacked with more winning hands, they can sense it even before many cards have been revealed. (Researchers monitor when their palms start to sweat with excitement.)
But experts like Princeton University’s Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, have made a life’s work of proving that fast decisions that feel intuitive are sometimes our sloppiest, and right only about half the time. His studies, covering everything from investing choices to health assessments, have shown that when trying to make intuitive decisions, people tend to be overly optimistic and confident.
Take Jane Robinson, who admits she has been both burned and blessed by following her gut. Now 57, she worked in the Michigan prison system for 22 years, climbing from guard to parole officer. But as her children left home and her frustration with the endless parade of offenders grew, she threw herself into her passion for painting. As she connected more with artists, the idea of communities that encourage creativity lit her fire. So when she was offered the directorship of a rehabbed factory where artists would live, paint and sell their work, intuition told her it was meant to be. “Even though I was only a few years away from getting a pension, I dove in, recruiting artists for 60 apartments and 20 studio spaces,” she says.