This quote is taken from Marquis’ “The Almost Perfect State” which was written in 1927 as a series of sharp criticisms of the Progressive Era.
I imagine a lot of people read this quote and wonder if the quote would work better … “ideas load the gun, but instinct pulls the trigger.”
But I believe that misses Don’s point <albeit I have not spoken with him on this topic … he died in 1937>.
Knowledge and experience can only take you so far.
It is the difference between being solely analytical and incorporating the intangible <the instinctual>.
What he is suggesting is that all the bright big ideas in the world don’t mean shit if they cannot be brought into being without a person who can originate the intellectual movement of action. This person requires a special character.
Instinct is one of those things people hate.
Because it is not tangible … and it always assumes some level of risk.
It is research of one <which scares the shit out of people these days>.
That means …
Collaboration? Well. Nope.
Consensus? Geez. Nope.
Extrapolation through the hypotenuse of multiple data points discussed ad nausea and plotted on some nifty white board? Sounds like fun … but … nope.
Instinct is gut … albeit typically great instincts have been honed by experience and knowledge.
But in the end … it is not tangible nor proven.
It is … well … just what it is.
It can be cultivated.
And it can even be honed.
But I do not believe it can be taught.
Well. Let me take that back and try this.
Good instincts cannot be taught.
Good instinct is first and foremost an internal aptitude. We all have instincts … but some just have gooder instincts. Beyond that natural foundation it is probably a combination of experience and knowledge and ultimately a mindset.
I say a mindset because instinct is a feeling and not anything visible or tangible. You sense what to do and where to go and what to say.
And it often isn’t because your instincts are proven good … but just rather that you know what feels wrong.
“Every time I’ve done something that doesn’t feel right, it’s ended up not being right.” – Mario M. Cuomo
I know one of the most frustrating things I have heard in business decision meetings is “I am not sure what the right thing to do is … but … what we are discussing doing sounds wrong.”
And while frustrating … it also feels right.
We sometimes get so rushed to make a decision we grab one … anyone will do. And, yet, it feels wrong … okay … maybe not wrong … just not right.
That is instinct.
Not only knowing the path to success … but also recognizing paths to failure & disappointment <before you even take one step on that path>.
It is a true joy to be near someone with good, if not great, instincts.
They seem to be in an effective zone and not in a comfort zone. What I mean is that they have a habit of disregarding distractions … discerning the important from the unimportant … and have a focus. That focus may not be the destination <it can be> but oftentimes their instincts are reflective of the journey to the destination.
They have a humble confidence … and sometimes are even slightly insecure <I imagine because their strength is in the intangible>.
“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
And they are rarely emotional in decision making.
Conversely, it is absolutely miserable to be near someone who has crappy instincts <but thinks they have good instincts>.
It is not only miserable because you end up going down lots of fruitless paths and waste a lot of energy but also because instincts are intangible.
There are no numbers or research or facts that can counter instincts and intuition. Therefore someone in a leadership position who has crappy instincts is unmovable. They are literally an elephant in the room.
That is misery.
Instinct is a natural aptitude.
Kind of like a knack.
An innate tendency or response to act in ways that, at its most base description, is essential to development, preservation or survival.
As Hayakawa suggests … instinct implies innate disposition rather than having a talent. It is not a gift, nor a talent or even an aptitude. It is more an inborn intangible. It could be called a ‘Knack’ but that has almost always been associated with social rather than intellectual causes & situations.
It is tough in today’s world for people with good instincts.
While intellectual in its strength it is not proven with any reason.
In an over thinking, over analyzing, over safe world .. ‘without reason’ doesn’t often gain a place at the table.
Instinctual decision making often requires having people follow with some blind faith. And in a world of consensus and collaboration … well … that ain’t happening much these days.