Anrah News - April 2016
  • Leadership and intuitive thinking
  • Yvonne Brill - rocket scientist 
  • Anrah News
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“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
Malcolm Gladwell "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking"
Intuition according to Nobel prize winning Daniel Kahneman in his book "Thinking: Fast and Slow" is 'fast thinking'. It is the quick fire response to events, the instant 'knowing' what to do. Fast thinking or intuition is needle sharp when it's based on expertise. Leaders who take fast decisions do so when they have an inner vision of what they want to achieve. Because they think strategically, they can let go of the unnecessary and arrive at inspired and occasionally surprising decisions. 
At the Max Planck Institut for Human, Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, scientists explored how decisions get made and came to two very interesting conclusions:
  • Every decision happens within 7 seconds and is unconscious. Conscious thought may intervene afterwards to modify or alter that decision.
  • The decision made in the unconscious tends to be far more accurate than any  based on rational thought. The unconscious is processing vast amounts of information that the conscious cannot hope to take account of - gut instinct is usually right.
 However there is also great danger in relying on fast thinking. A leader needs the self awareness and emotional intelligence to know whether intuition is based on gut or emotional response. To avoid being swayed by misplaced feeling into catastrophic mistakes, leaders need to substantiate gut thinking with evaluating and contextualising the decision. Kahneman says, “You do as much homework as possible beforehand so that the intuition is as informed as it can be.”
Not every situation needs intuition. ‘Slow thinking’ is what patent attorneys, lawyers and academics relish. It takes research, consideration and a slow piecing together of evidence to examine the impact, ramifications and possible outcomes of a decision. The more important the decision, the more compelling the case for ‘slow thinking' - particularly in decisions as major as that the British have had to make recently.

In my experience, the intuitive leader:
  • Has an overarching vision for their company and themselves.
  • Judges ideas against a judiciously chosen limited set of filters. (Narrow the factors in your decision.)
  • Focuses on the big picture. (Avoid getting snarled up in detail.)
  • Has high levels of self confidence and self awareness. (Silence your inner critic. Keep examining your intentions, find a coach, keep challenging yourself without judgement.) 
  • Sizes up body language and verbal clues to deduce hidden intentions. (Watch, observe, listen out for what people say, the choice of words, how they say it and how they act.)
  • Is not risk averse. (Ask yourself what decision you would take if there were no repercussions. Keep making mistakes. As Chris Coleman the Welsh football manager said after the recent win against Belgium, "I'm not afraid to fail. I've had more failures than successes.")
  • Understand their people: their fears, hopes and motivators. (Get to know your individual team members. Do personality profiles on both yourself and all of them. The more information, the more accurate your intuition.)
  • Pays heed to their inner 'knowing' whilst listening to others.
The opening paragraph of the 2013 New York Times obituary of Yvonne Brill, brilliant rocket scientist responsible for rocket propellor systems in current use in satellites read:

"She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said." 
Whilst this raised an understandable storm of protest, it was typical of Yvonne Brill's humility and unassuming nature. “You just have to be cheerful about it and not get upset when you get insulted,” she once said.

Mrs Brill (she insisted on the Mrs) was the only woman in the United States working on rocket science in the 1940s. She had overcome many obstacles to do so. Earlier, the University of Manitoba refused to allow her to study engineering since there were no facilities for women at their outdoor camp. Instead she read Mathematics and Chemistry and graduated at the top of her class. She never got a professional engineer's licence, though achieved a Masters in Chemistry - as she said, “Nobody had the right degrees back then, so it didn’t matter. I didn’t have engineering, but the engineers didn’t have the chemistry and math.”

 Whilst studying for her Masters she worked as a saleswoman for a chemicals company. At a talk by Linus Pauling she met a research chemist, William Brill who told her he had a problem making a particular chemical in his lab. She replied that she could sell it to him by the pound at a very low price. He invited her to go square dancing and eventually they got married in 1951.

After her Masters she joined Douglas for 3 years where she worked on the first satellite designs. However Mr Brill had got a job in Connecticut and later in New Jersey. Each time, Mrs Brill followed her husband taking part time jobs in the rocket industry, such as Wright Aeronautical. She said “Good husbands are harder to find than good jobs.” She left the company in 1958 to raise her children whilst acting as a consultant for the FMC Corporation. In 1966, she went back to work full time, taking a job at RCA’s rocket subsidiary. Soon she was doing the work that won international acclaim.

By 1972 Mrs Brill had patented her propulsion system for satellites and the first communications satellite was launched in 1983. Her system is still used today in satellites for worldwide phone networks, long range television broadcasts and news systems. She worked with NASA on the rocket motor of the Space Shuttle, the propulsion systems for the first weather satellite and for the Mars Observer.

Throughout her life, she advocated for women and girls to take part in engineering and for high school girls to, "stick with math." In the last week of her life, she was recommending eminent women in engineering for professional awards. She herself won many plaudits and awards including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and in 2010 was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Her rationale for choosing the rocket industry was that no other woman was involved in it. In an interview, she said, “I reckoned they would not invent rules to discriminate against one person.”
Anrah News
Su at Priddey Marketing and I were invited to take part in "Chemistry Means Business" at the Royal Society of Chemistry event. We got to promote our "Business Skills for STEMM Professionals" training designed for:
  • Experts moving out of a R&D phase who've received capital investment and need to develop their business competence.
  • STEMM professionals in a commercial environment who recognise specific areas for improvement.
  • Ambitious organisations eager to support new employees with a fuller transferable skillset.
Who do you know that may need our help?  Let us know at and we’ll approach them on your behalf.
On "The Life Scientific" at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Sheila Rowan astrophysicist, describes the discovery and detection of gravitational waves to Jim Al-Khalili. What is particularly remarkable is how her 10 minute presentation at a conference changed her life forever.
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Please email me or call 07939 261743 to discuss your objectives for yourself or your leadership team and how I could help you achieve them.

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