How to separate your winning instincts from your losing ideas.

“My rule of thumb for entrepreneurs. Your Instincts are right 95% of the time, your ideas 25%. Fall in love with instincts. Kill ideas often.”

One of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned running a company has been separating winning instincts from losing ideas.

Let me explain.

You and I have instincts, an intuitive way of acting or thinking, a natural propensity for specific skills. Maybe you have a sixth sense for momentum.

Maybe you sense when a market or company is shifting.

Maybe you instinctually “get” what a customer is feeling before others do.

Maybe you have strong instincts that allow you to develop cultures and the people in them.

You have to trust your instincts.

But great instincts don’t always lead to correct ideas. I may have an instinct for leading people, but the observations, conclusions and ideas about them are not always right.

Trust your instincts, but test your ideas constantly.

Mark Pincus, CEO of Gaming company Zynga, experienced the rise and decline of a massive gaming company. He explains it this way:

“Learn how to separate your instincts from your observations and your conclusions. Because if you’re a good entrepreneur or product ninja, your instincts are probably always right, and they will get more and more always right. They might start out at 70% but go to 99%.

Your observations, even when you are on the top of your game, might be, at best, 50% right. Your conclusions, at best, might be 25% right. But what too many of us do as entrepreneurs is, we conflate all of that. We’re either accepting a bad conclusion or rejecting a good instinct. This is a life-long thing I’m working on.”

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones guilty of this. We all have a tendency to conflate our instincts with our observations, assumptions, conclusions and ideas. To be successful long term, you have to separate these. And it’s not easy.

I was in a room the other day watching the winning instinct of a leader in action. This person has a 6th sense for growth. It’s amazing and inspiring to watch. Then, he began drawing conclusions and making assumptions about people in the organization, questioning their motivations and ideas. You know what happened next? The inspirational air evaporated.

Deep down I think everyone knew the observations were off. Afterall, this leader had hardly been around. When discussion ensued, he got defensive. His instinct was spot on, the conclusions and observations were not. Ultimately, the conversation was not as productive as it could have been.

This has been incredibly liberating for me and my team because it allows us to trust the instincts in ourselves and each other while giving permission to test and blow holes through the ideas. It’s like saying, “I totally trust what you’re sensing and maybe even seeing but I also have the permission to test and push back on specific assumptions and ideas.” That makes for an incredibly productive culture. You get better and the results are better. That’s how teams win over the long run.