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Intuitive Decision-Making in an Age of Chaos by Paul O’Brien

Intuitive Decision-Making in an Age of Chaos by Paul O'Brien

“Chaos and uncertainty are market opportunities for the wise.”—Tom Peters, Thriving on Chaos

We live and work in an age of uncertainty and chaos. As Alvin Toffler’s seminal work Future Shock predicted in the early 1970s—and as subsequent events have confirmed—the pace of change is accelerating. Shifting conditions support myriad unforeseen opportunities. We are challenged to make decisions.

Decision-making is generally not fun, but it is arguably the single most important thing we do. A president resists terrorists; an investor decides to sell short. Making good, timely decisions is the highest-leverage activity going. That’s why leaders and executives are paid royal sums.

We’ve always known that the quality of our decisions determines our success in life. In recent times, the need for good decision-making has become crucial. Our media-bombarded brains are confronted with as many choices in a single year as our grandparents faced in decades. The Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times” has come true—with a vengeance.

Cope we must; prosper we can. Rapid change presents new choices and requires new responses. How can we make pivotal decisions more rapidly?

The Limits of Reason
“As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss.” —Noam Chomsky, TV interview, 1978

Ever since the Age of Reason, the western world has glorified scientific rationalism, finding in it the solution to every problem. Data in, answers out. In our modern age, with instant access to virtually unlimited data, you’d expect that logical decision-making would have reached its apex.

Think again. When we weigh pros and cons, analyze statistics, apply probability theory, or toy with computer models, logical analysis is only as good as the quality of the information available. And there’s the rub.

We’ve got too much information, and it’s often impossible to differentiate the reliable from the bogus. Even the good stuff has a shorter shelf life; rapid change makes current information obsolete quickly. We could delay decision-making while awaiting more information (and all too often do); meanwhile, we miss new opportunities. How can we determine when to act—and which portions of available information are true or meaningful? The answer is intuition.

Face it, good decision-making is more an art than a science. Having harnessed powerful computers—the ultimate models of left-brain processing—can we now humbly admit that our commitment to any given course of action is based largely on gut-feel? Can we accept and appreciate a system of thought that is non-scientific?

Beyond Reason’s Realm
“[Intuition] does not denote something contrary to reason, but something outside the province of reason.” — C. G. Jung: Psychological Types

If intuition is defined as something other than reason, little wonder that the concept is so grudgingly accepted in the modern age. Reason, after all, has sup-posedly reigned supreme since the Age of Enlightenment back in the 17th century. Rationalist Francis Bacon was quite clear: “Reason doth both buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things.”

Yet even the most casual observer of history can bear witness to our species’ sad legacy of attempts at pure reason. When we try by means of reason alone to divine the workings of the universe or to conduct relationships with one another, we falter. Are we then hapless captives of irrationality? Is all around us mere chaos, not subject to empirical examination and understanding?

Linearity, logic, and clarity of thought unquestionably play a significant role in the unfolding of nature’s secrets. Experience suggests, however, that something else helps us make our discoveries—some faculty of knowing that takes place without the use of rational processes. Call it intuition.

Intuition exists outside the stream of ordinary consciousness. It may announce itself in many ways—as a vague hunch or as a fully developed idea. It may arrive as a mathematical equation, as an invention, or as a decision about the best path to take.

The question arises: Must we simply trust our gut feelings? Or can we find systematic ways to support or stimulate our intuitive function? Fortunately, a number of people—including prominent scientists and business leaders—have rediscovered ancient technologies for intuitive decision-making and creativity. Two such technologies are the ancient Chinese oracle known as the I Ching and the Tarot.

Oracle Systems & Decision-Making
Not only did the I Ching fascinate psychologist Carl Jung, it was also popular with his fellow scientists Werner Heisenberg and Albert Einstein. Heisenberg, discoverer of the Uncertainty Principle, even had the yin-yang symbol (representing the binary polarity of the I Ching’s 64 patterns) added to his family’s coat-of-arms.

A more recent example from the world of business is Paul Wenner, a successful entrepreneur with a cause. In 1985, he founded Gardenburger, Inc. to provide a healthy fast-food alternative. Much sweat equity and thousands of decisions later, Gardenburger rose to become the world’s fastest growth stock in 1994. Paul is now a multimillionaire, author of a major book on vegetarianism and the booklet Ten Secrets to Success.

One of Wenner’s secrets is the use of the I Ching—in the form of a software program appropriately named Synchronicity—to stimulate intuition and support critical decision-making. Wenner states that “the Synchronicity program played a major role in my company’s success and growth.”

The Principle of Synchronicity
A certain curious principle that I have termed synchronicity, a concept that formulates a point of view diametrically opposed to that of causality . . . synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers. —Carl Jung

Over the past several decades, the perceived gap between the empirical and the mystical has been closing. Credit for bringing these two camps within hailing distance must go to the great German-born psychologist Carl Jung, who introduced the West to the idea of meaningful coincidence, or synchronicity.

Jung’s work looms behind any exploration of intuition. Although today’s Jungians may hesitate to follow the leader, Jung fearlessly explored the territory connecting scientific inquiry with spiritual experience. He emphasized the importance of symbolism, suggesting that symbols always point to a deeper truth, and counseling us to interpret our own unique sets of symbols.

In a 1952 monograph entitled “Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle,” Jung contrasted the western mind—influenced by early Greek philosophers who focused on details—with the eastern perspective, which views the detail as part of the whole. To Jung, the eastern approach leveraged a more contemplative approach, a more holistic viewpoint impossible for the unassisted intellect, prone as it is to tunnel vision. Jung pointed to a power of discernment that can take advantage of “the irrational functions of consciousness sensation and intuition.”

Herein lay Jung’s enchantment with the I Ching: it codifies a method of grasping a situation not by components, but as a seamless whole. “There is no need of any criteria which imposes conditions and restricts the wholeness of the natural process. In the I Ching, the coins fall just as happens to suit them.”

How can any sort of truth be divined from such an apparently happenstance methodology? Two Chinese sages, King Wen and the Duke of Chou, devised the I Ching some 4,000 years ago to strengthen the connection between the psychic and physical realms. Today, we approach the I Ching prepared to resonate inwardly with one of its sixty-four archetypal patterns—an ability we call intuition. As Jung put it, the I Ching oracle interprets an “inner unconscious knowledge that corresponds to the state of consciousness at the moment.”

And so it is that an answer to a long-unsolved quandary seems to pop into our heads. So it is that events oozing with connective portent have no apparent causal relationship. Such moments are hardly random; something in the external world triggers our inner knowledge, and the two realities merge within the working intellect. The I Ching codifies this phenomenon, presenting an accessible system that can be used deliberately with surprising results.

An Intuitive Renaissance
The I Ching, since its revival in the 1960s, has been categorized as “New Age” in the popular media. It is, however, anything but new—having been used by emperors, sages, and ordinary people for thousands of years. Today, this oracle continues to be put to practical use by psychotherapists, physicists, and by enlightened yet practical individuals like Paul Wenner.

A general angst has settled over us in this Age of Chaos. Lacking the guidance of a trustworthy internal pilot, we founder in a bog of anxiety, confusion, mistrust, and indecision. No matter how adroit the voices of reason, they cannot seem to slake our thirst. Parched for guidance and wisdom, once again we turn to the I Ching—a powerful method with an ancient and honorable pedigree—for clarity of insight and intuitive decision-making.

Paul O’brien is the host of Pathways, a popular interview program on KBOO radio, focusing on issues of transformation and self-discovery. A successful businessman in the software industry, he has studied martial arts, meditation and eastern metaphysics. Paul is also the founder of Visionary Networks, Inc., a multimedia company using technology to support personal and cultural development. Visionary’s most recent productions are the intuitive decision-making CD-Rom Oracle of Changes, and Tarot Magic. You can reach Paul at 503-246-4043.

Alternatives Magazine - Issue 10

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