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Fuzzy logic!

During a recent train journey I started chatting with the gentleman seated opposite and discovered that he is a distributor and retailer of electronic components (Those weird tiny stuff stuck on boards inside your Computer, TV and Hi-fi systems!) – he’s been in the business since the early 80s, a seasoned campaigner. Being naturally curious about Sales and Business Management I quizzed him on trends in his category (inputs from various market segments are of great value to Consultants). He spoke about changing demand patterns, the disappearance of small-time technicians and hobbyists. These days the major chunk of his business was through OEM Sales – manufactures in SME segment bought components in bulk for the electric and electronic products they made. Somewhere along the way the conversation, almost inevitably, veered to Chinese products, because they are everywhere and in every industry. He said that the components trade had taken a double hit – there was cheaper China components flooding the market and then to add fuel to the fire local manufacturers were directly procuring finished products from Chinese factories to avail the low-cost production facilities there.

Instead of getting demoralized and defeated by this trend he too had started trading in finished products sourced from China. Sensing the opportunity quite early this savvy businessman started taking orders from the network of outlets to which he distributed components and supplied them with components and finished products sourced from Shanghai and Guangzhou. I praised the smart moves he had made and then posed a question – “I hear that one needs to be careful because there are a lot of poor quality products available too? How did you ensure that the stuff you got was good? Didn’t you face the risk of facing dissatisfied customer lining up outside your shop with complaints?”

He replied with a smile – “I have been in this business for a while and I know a bad product when I see it. And then there is something known at gut-feel; you just know when the stuff is good. But it also makes sense to back up your intuition with some buffer stock – that will help to cover any damaged items brought back by our clients.”

“Sound thinking!” I said to myself.

He words made me think about a panel discussion I had watched the other day on a Business Channel where the anchor asked a few industry leaders, “What steps do you take to stay ahead of the game in these troubled times?”

Mr Ajay Nanavati, CEO of 3M India, responded in this fashion (these aren’t his exact words) ”This market is a decision-maker’s worst nightmare –  instability in government, choppiness in the advanced economies and slowdown in our own markets. In order to navigate this market one really has to learn to read the tea leaves. Dig deep and use all your experience to come up with solutions that may seem radical and absurd. But then we are living in absurd times. It may still go wrong, but this market does not permit you to come up with text-book solutions. One has to rely a lot of intuition”.

That word again!

I am reading “Working with Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman and in the very first chapter he writes about intuition. Goleman says that this skill comes with experience – that it’s our subconscious applying logic based on our past experiences on the subject or situation; some people call it wisdom, he said.

Goleman has also said in the book that almost all successful people rely on gut-feel. They are able to go beyond the limits set by rules learnt in text-books and come up with unique and different answers to the usual problems.

So, the next time you assess a situation and decide to take the road less travelled, I’d say … follow your gut!

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  1. Biju Krishnan
    April 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Purely going by the Gut feel may sometimes be very risky. But if you have more than one choice even after going through facts, figures, data, based projections/estimations etc and still find it difficult to choose then going by the gut feel may help. Well! you may argue that gut feel doesn’t work that way – thats right. But you just can’t give up on data and analysis before taking decisions especially important ones. Some of the choices you make in your life journey may be purely on gut feel and they may have worked very well. But in business of bottom lines and toplines it may not work that well.

    • JayadevM
      April 19, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      Hi Biju

      Being an Engineer I am sure you rely extensively on numbers and facts and there is nothing wrong with that. One can’t rush blindly into decision. That certainly can be risky.

      But you will agree that I can only say so much in 600 or 700 words. My article is more of a nudge

      I am not asking people to suspend logical thinking and analysis of facts, but there are times when one needs to go by gut-feeling. There are times when everything will appear logically right but something inside tells you not to proceed. That comes with experience.

      If you analyse all the decisions you have taken over the years you will find a number of them not based on numbers or facts but purely on how you felt about the decision.

      I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the subject in such detail.

  2. noothan
    April 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Good One Sir……….

    • JayadevM
      April 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Thank you, Noothan

  3. April 19, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Absolute gem of an article Jay… I can relate to everything in this article! i think I am going to take your article and modify it a bit to suit the hospitality industry and submit it to my GM and Sales manager— am sure they’ll enjoy it!! As a duty manager about 20 to 24 days a month, this is my mantra for sure while tackling issues standing on your feet and while on the move where response time is critical towards Guest Satisfaction ! Thanks Jay!

    • JayadevM
      April 20, 2013 at 5:46 am

      My pleasure, Jamy.

      Am glad the article helped you relate to what’s happening in your industry.

      Best wishes!

  4. April 20, 2013 at 8:00 am

    Most of the times our gut-feel/intuition prove us right.Regarding Chinese products, most of us have bitter experience after buying them since we buy them as they’re cheap, looking savvy.
    Nice read.

    • JayadevM
      April 23, 2013 at 4:10 am

      Hello, Easwar,

      Thank you for reading the article and for sharing your thoughts.

      Yes, we all have stories to tell about Chinese products. But we need to be careful.

  5. Biju Krishnan
    April 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Yes I agree with you there were quite a few decisions which were not based on facts and figures. May be my thoughts were an extension of the interaction I had with some of my young team members during the recent performance review discussion. During the course of the year there were some bad decisions they had taken and there were some excellent decisions but in both cases I found that some of them didn’t have any facts/figures/data either to defend their decisions or to present the benefits of their excellent decisions. It would be good idea to develop a culture of having an eye for facts and the patience to work/analyse with data and figures to resolve problems and make decisions. Hence the concern. The reference from your article “Goleman says that this skill comes with experience – that it’s our subconscious applying logic based on our past experiences on the subject or situation; some people call it wisdom, he said.” capital E for experience and capital W for wisdom – Then its time for gut feel – thats what I feel.

    • JayadevM
      April 21, 2013 at 3:29 am

      Hi Biju,

      Thank you for clarifying – and that makes useful reading for all of us.

      Regards.

  6. April 20, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Wonderful article, J.

    • JayadevM
      April 21, 2013 at 3:29 am

      Thank you, Biju

  7. Jithu
    April 20, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Gud one boss…

    • JayadevM
      April 24, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Thank you, Jitesh.

  8. April 21, 2013 at 7:05 am

    Jayadev, I read it late last night and although I was feeling impelled to comment, I was quite groggy. So I took my gut call and went to sleep!

    Mr Nanavati put it evocatively what that gentleman sitting on the opposite seat to yours in the train said so simply. There are times you have to fall back on experience rather than the technical charts to take a decision. I hope to read Mr Goleman sometime. Exquisite, as ever!

    • JayadevM
      April 23, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Sleeping on a problem works wonders, doesn’t it? 🙂

      Your response is crisp and effective.

      And Mr. Goleman is worth reading and following.

      Thanks a lot!

  9. Kailash
    April 23, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Good One J,

    Not only in sales but almost all decisions of life it should be mixer of both gut feeling and logic+data+analyses etc.

    • JayadevM
      April 23, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      Absolutely!

  10. April 23, 2013 at 8:17 am

    During my MBA days, long long ago, I remember the marketing Prof. had said Gut feel is for experienced people. When you are fresh out of college, your only role is to doing surveys, taking feedback and number crunching. I agree that experienced guys can easily get the sense of the market. However, one needs to have years of experience moving around the market or in being in the particular discipline.

    I haven’t read Daniel Goleman. However, I have always believed that intuition is a science in itself. Our subconscious mind does the kind of data crunching in the background, and takes into account the lack of data in some places and tries to bridge the gap and suggest us. I feel intuition doesn’t happen in vacuum. If you have fed it over the years with enough data, then your subconscious mind aka intuition becomes more robust. The reason why I believe this is because, there was a period in my life when I was fresh out of engineering college, I had discovered that I was intuitive and I could safely predict the outcome in many situations, even I could discover later that when I used to feel a certain bad vibration about people they later turned out to be thieves or frauds etc. For sometime I consciously tried to predict outcomes, and I realised that I am stumbling. I failed. So now I have left my mind to do whatever number crunching on its own and only when I feel something on my own then I take it. I never pressurise my mind anymore for outcomes/gut feel.

    Intuition makes me feel good or bad about something. And when I get that feeling, I listen to it. However, if I am forcibly put in 3M CEO’s role and asked to read the “tea leaves” I will stumble badly. We are not psychic like Peter Hurkos who could touch any object and predict the past and future.

    • JayadevM
      April 23, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      Hi Sabyasachi

      Thank you for reading my article and for providing such a detailed response.

      You have reconfirmed for all of us, with personal examples, what the leaders in the field have told us. Getting such insights reinforces the message.

      Yes, its dangerous to trust gut-feel without the strong backing of past experiences – can lead a novice way off the right track. This is one area where experiences counts; but even having that doesn’t automatically guarantee right results every time.

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