I have a fond memory of using intuition at work as we prepared to launch our new remote moderated product, Lookback Live. I was sitting down with Craig Stubblefield, who, among many other things, is behind the current look and feel of the Lookback product.

We discussed which aspects of the Live product we’d overlooked, and I vividly remember five words tugging insistently at my mind, over and over: assume that it won’t work.

Rather than dismiss this tugging, I followed it deeper and mentioned it to Craig. So we started asking ourselves: what happens to the UX of the Live product when the connectivity isn’t good enough? Or when the participant drops off, and so on?

Reliability turned out to be a majorly overlooked piece of our initial launch of Lookback Live, and it is safe to say that the product wasn’t reliable at all when it first launched. Now, several years of hard work later, we’re seeing very high approval ratings for reliability. While the conversation with Craig certainly led to a better experience during the rollout for customers, I think we should’ve quadrupled our efforts to not just fix reliability, but to create a graceful UX for when it fails.

And yet, looking back, it’s clear to me that this is exactly what my intuition was telling me. Why didn’t I listen to it more clearly?

This, and many other episodes like it, has made me super interested in developing a keen understanding of where intuition comes from, the different forms it takes, and how to amplify it in order to do better work. Let’s dig in.

The source of intuition

What I’ve found is that this can be debated infinitely, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Whether you believe that intuition is coming from your subconscious and instincts, or from a superconscious or soul (like I do), the important part is that you believe it has something important to offer you.

If you believe there’s nothing smarter than your conscious self that you can connect to, intuition is a worthless exercise. But if you think there is, or you’re curious to explore whether there is, I think developing intuition can have tremendous value for you.

Four types of intuition

I believe intuition comes in many forms, and that these are the most accessible:

Nudges

Nudges, like when you feel something in your chest that’s pulling you in a certain direction. Often related to places and events, I’ll have a strong feeling when it’s time to go, when it’s time to call someone in particular, or when something bad is about to happen if I don’t hurry, etc. A nudge will feel like a gentle pull in my chest, like there’s an invisible cord slowly increasing its tug on me.

Like the other morning when I was swimming, I suddenly felt like today was a day I shouldn’t be producing anything at all, but just get to the office, be very calm, and be ready for whatever. It ended up being one of those days where one important item after the other just kept popping up, and refusing to stop. A day I would not have been able to handle if I wasn’t ready for it.

Hunches

Hunches, like when I have a feeling about something that I can’t articulate yet, or a feeling that something’s going to be revealed if we start talking about a particular topic or take a particular action. Unlike nudges, which are always a time-sensitive, in-the-moment kind of thing, hunches can float around longer in my consciousness. They’re like suspicions, but I won’t have any rational reasons for their existence.

The example of designing a fail-safe version of Lookback’s Live UX was a good example of a hunch. At the time, I hadn’t personally been involved in any QA and didn’t have any other data that suggested it wasn’t going to be reliable. It was just one of those strong hunches that I couldn’t explain, and it turned out to be spot-on.

Inspiration

Inspiration, when you’re learning from other people’s work, when you’re following new trains of thought, or when a series of hunches open up new worlds of creativity and perspectives to you. Inspiration is a little trickier to define in this setting, because simply looking at other people’s work may not be intuition. But what I do believe happens within you when you explore something entirely new like this, is that you’re building up momentum within you to keep exploring in a certain direction. And if you’re able to follow that feeling of inspiration — without knowing where it’ll take you — you’re definitely in the intuitive domain of behavior.

Like my friend Dan, who’s a designer at a big company. He used to love to hang out with customers and do casual user research by having a coffee with them, etc. When he was told that wasn’t a good use of his time (the company had dedicated researchers doing it better, he was told), he couldn’t argue against it. Yet he felt something was turned off inside of him, and his work started suffering as a result.

What I believe happened was that, intuitively, Dan knew that speaking to these customers would yield new inspiration for him to solve certain design problems, even if the conversations weren’t directly related to that. But his conscious mind was not aware of this fact.

This is where I think a stronger understanding of intuition — and an ability to articulate its mechanisms — really helps.

Dreams

It seems many people have had those special dreams that turned out to have great significance to their lives. My first one was after being turned down after a job interview with Spotify. A dream the night after revealed an opportunity to get back to them and ask for another interview. So I tried, and I was not only able to get another interview, but at the end of it, the CPO and CTO had the same question for me: Can you start on Monday?

Suffice to say, that made me even more interested in dreaming and intuition!

I also love it when engineers share stories of dreaming about code:


To me, a lot of dreaming is just rambling, but I can often feel when those significant, very vivid and real dreams show up. And they are often the ones that end up meaning something.

Improving your intuition

I believe amplifying the signals is about:

  • Committing yourself to actively listen to intuition, and taking notes of the signals you seem to receive.
  • Experimenting by acting on the signals, and seeing which ones led to something.
  • Disconnecting by spending time in nature, long walks, going offline, etc, in order to access the deeper parts of yourself.
  • Letting go of your assumptions & preferences, to make space in your brain for new thoughts and ideas to enter.
  • Sharing your intuitive signals with others, to force yourself to articulate and externalize some of what you’re experiencing.

Hopefully that can help you improve your intuition, for whatever kind of work you’re doing.

So that’s it for today. To get my follow-up posts on this, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email below. Thanks for reading!

We are more than we think!
~ Jon