OE Construction Corp

Is There a Place for Intuition in Construction?

The use of practical intuition in business just makes sense. You don’t always know the right answer in every situation automatically; no one does. In science, medicine and even high finance, an intuitive thought can lead to an important discovery. Of course, you need to investigate your idea, to see if it has actual merit before acting on it, but intuition is often the inspiration that leads people to decisions they might not otherwise have attempted.

“Gerd Gigerenzer, author of the book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, says that he is both intuitive and rational. “In my scientific work, I have hunches. I can’t explain always why I think a certain path is the right way, but I need to trust it and go ahead. I also have the ability to check these hunches and find out what they are about. That’s the science part.” (Source)

Even in construction, whether in the field or back at the office, team members and managers alike may intuitively know when they need to “pay attention” to an issue, concern or situation, above and beyond what is readily apparent. So while it might seem counter productive to trust intuition in the field, where machinery, projects and indeed lives are in the balance, you should never completely discount its value.

Construction team working on a blueprint

Is intuition a sign of intelligence?

Indeed it is! After all, having intuition on a particular situation tends to be the result of what the author of the above mentioned article refers to as “collective intelligence”.

“If all you do is sit in a chair and trust your intuition, you are not exercising much intelligence. But if you take a deep dive into a subject and study numerous possibilities, you are exercising intelligence when your gut instinct tells you what is – and isn’t – important.” (Source)

Have you ever been in a position to make a decision and your rational brain is telling you to go one way, based on the evidence before you, and yet you have that nagging voice in the back of your mind, telling you that there might be more to the situation than what is currently obvious? That’s your intuition kicking in and telling you to look harder.

The smart person gives at least some merit to that intuition, as it is based on your experience, pulling from your brain’s knowledge resources in a way that isn’t systematic and computer-like, but rather based on something a little more primal. 

Intuition and instinct aren’t that far apart but they’re not the same

Lemmings jump off cliffs by instinct. It’s not a choice, or a thought process. Someone who only follows the rational mind, without even considering their own hunches and intuition, is a lemming with opposable thumbs: they just do it. 

Instinct is innate and primal while rationality—as well as thumbs—is what sets humans apart from animals, but there needs to be room for something more abstract in terms of how we make decisions. Someone who is using intuition to assess a situation or make a decision is making a connection between rational thought and instinctive behavior. 

Site engineer on a construction site

“The conscious is an expert at logic and will use it relentlessly. Conversely, the unconscious mind searches through the past, present, and future and connects with hunches and feelings in a nonlinear way. Its process is cryptic to the logical mind, as it defies the conventional laws of time and space.” (Source)

For example, you might not analyze why a site needs further examination before continuing a project after a major weather event; instead, you might have some intuition based on your experience that tells you that you need to give it a second look.

Using intuition in work and life

According to Gigernzer, the trick is not to amass loads of information in your brain, but instead to discard what isn’t relevant: to know intuitively what you don’t need to know. By doing this, you can dump jargon and the need to keep too much information in your head, when much of it won’t help you make a decision, when push comes to shove.

By building and using intuition, you can make decisions faster because you can get to the core of an issue quickly, getting rid of extraneous information that isn’t relevant. In a chaotic environment, which a construction site can be, this can be the difference between success and failure. It takes practice, to make sure that you’re not overly relying on your hunch instead of the data in front of you, but it’s a cognitive skill that every brain can use to make better, quicker decisions. As you learn to trust your intuition to make decisions quickly, your personal value and the value of the work you provide will increase, vis-a-vis the people you work with and for.

Bottom line? In construction, as in most other endeavors, it’s okay to trust your experience, knowledge and understanding of the situation; act on your “intuition” when it makes sense to and you’ll go a long way! 

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