Leveraging intuitive knowledge in business


Business Matter

By Manish Shah

All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration.
-Albert Einstein

The Bhagavad-Gita describes three kinds of knowledge —tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. Tamasic knowledge is the lowest form of knowledge because it takes a part and considers it to be the whole. An economist, who has a preconceived notion of how the world works and is not open to new ideas from his discipline or other disciplines, is a person with tamasic knowledge. Thus tamasic knowledge is rigid and delusional.

The next level of knowledge is rajasic. A person with rajasic knowledge assembles information part by part and assumes that he has created a complete picture by putting these parts together. However, in reality, the whole is much more than the some of the parts. In an organization, there is an interconnectedness between the various departments such as marketing, finance and manufacturing. Although a rajasic marketing person clearly sees the organization’s problems, he fails to envision how making a change in the marketing policy influences the finance and the manufacturing departments.

The highest level of knowledge is sattvic knowledge, which is also called intuitive knowledge. Intuitive knowledge looks at the whole, and by examining the whole comes to understand all the parts. A well documented case of intuitive knowledge is Kekule’s discovery of the structure of benzene.  Kekule dreamed about a coiled snake that was biting its tail. He intuitively realized that the molecular structure of benzene was characterized by a ring of carbon atoms. Kekule’s intuitive flash did not come in segments — there are six carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms; they are connected together in a ring fashion-instead it came spontaneously, all at once.

Eastern philosophy defines intuitive knowledge as the knowledge which flows from the higher levels of consciousness. These higher levels of consciousness can be accessed through meditation.  Intuitive knowledge does not have to be philosophic knowledge; it can be knowledge about any field including business.

Swami Veda, an Eastern mystic, suggests that having an altruistic goal in life opens the doors to intuitive knowledge. He gives example of an altruistic receptionist, who is always courteous to her callers. Swami Veda says that he would not be surprised if this receptionist could read what is on a caller’s mind without talking to the caller. A spiritual outlook towards our professional duties brings about a transformation that enables us to connect with the source of the intuitive knowledge.

When Einstein received intuitive knowledge he “felt certain [that] he was right while not knowing the reason.” Peter Senge documents this phenomenon in his book, The Fifth Discipline. Experienced managers, according to Senge, frequently have rich intuitions about complex systems. They cannot explain these intuitions in a simple cause and effect language. Therefore, they tell their troops, “Just do it. It will work.”
We seek answers to complex business problems from outside sources. In doing so, we neglect the vast reservoir of intuitive knowledge that is within us. This knowledge can be accessed by calming our mind and by having an altruistic goal.

Manish Shah is the former president of Midwest Law Printing in Chicago. He also worked at Intel, PwC and Motorola. He has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and a MS in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology. He can be reached at manishshahus@yahoo.com.

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