Intuition in Business

by Angela O’Connell and Pat Naylor

The mechanics of intuition

We are learning more about how our brains and minds work every day; in fact some 90 per cent of what we now know has been discovered in the last 15 years. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans, which were initially used to investigate problems with the brain, such as the effects of strokes, have helped increase our knowledge. Now MRI scans are being used for research and show clearly how different parts of our brains function and work together.

Intuition is part of the normal way in which our brains function. We still have much to learn about the subject, but our developing understanding of how our brains work is helping to explain a great deal about how our intuition operates.

So why do some people appear more intuitive than others? Some of us are more naturally right-brain dominated, which can make accessing intuition a more natural activity. We can become more balanced in our outlook by understanding which activities are located in which hemisphere of the brain and accepting that by using both hemispheres of our brain equally we can be doubling our capacity.

Intuition is vital... it is money in the bank.

David Lynch, film director

Research into how our brains are wired is ongoing, but it is believed that between 70 and 95 per cent of us have the same brain format. Roger Sperry’s original work on brain-damaged patients discovered that certain parts of the brain were linked to particular functions and we know that the brain is very obviously in two parts – the right and left hemispheres – which are linked by what is called the corpus callosum.

Left and right brains

The following is a rough guide to the different functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

If an object is shown to the left visual field of patients who have suffered damage to the corpus callosum, they will most likely be unable to name the object, because the left visual field is connected to the right hemisphere of the brain, which does not have a language centre.

Intuition is associated with the right brain, as it works non-verbally, often through sensing wider connections and making leaps across boundaries.

After reading the list of attributes, you might already know which hemisphere dominates your thinking processes. In other words, do you think of yourself as being logical, rational and analytical or as creative, imaginative and intuitive? By concentrating on some of the activities associated with the other hemisphere, you will find that you will become more balanced in your outlook and decision making.

The study of stroke patients has determined that some women also have language centres in the right hemisphere, which would explain an increased level of intuition, if only because the feelings can be translated into words more readily.

In addition, it has recently been mooted that the size of the corpus callosum determines how much interaction there is between the two sides of the brain. Some researchers believe that women’s brains have a larger corpus callosum than men’s and that this accounts for the belief that some women are more intuitive than men.

The right brain and the unconscious

Jung’s definition of intuition as ‘perception via the unconscious’ is a good description of the mechanics in operation when we receive a flash of intuition. As explained above, our brain functions are – in general terms – divided between the left and right hemispheres. The left brain is thought of as our conscious mind and represents the analytical, reasoning side, as well as the side that deals with language. The right brain, on the other hand, is our creative, emotional, imaginative and, significantly, our unconscious (or subconscious) side.

Because it does not generally contain language centres, thoughts or ideas coming from the right brain are often communicated in pictures and feelings – flashes of inspiration, coming from our subconscious, that we may then call intuition.

In fact, if you look again at the list of right-brain activities, you will note many that may explain intuition – our sense of information coming through to us from a space of which of which we are not aware. For example:

  • The right brain can think in symbols (which, if you think about it, is a form of pattern matching), so a right-brain communication may take symbolic form
  • The right brain is the more visual side and recognises faces; it may therefore be the part of your brain that detects minute changes in facial expression or body language of which you are not consciously and verbally aware, but which may be highly significant indicators of other people’s true feelings (see also Body Language)
  • The right brain also handles imagination and the big picture – so when you have a vivid dream, rich in symbols, that helps you suddenly to solve a problem, it may be that your right brain is communicating
  • It is also the side that concerns your emotions – hence that gut feeling
  • Humour and geometry and the big picture are also right brain faculties; all of these, in a way, concern seeing connections and proportion, so the right brain tends to come up with solutions formed by what is sometimes referred to as lateral thinking
  • Our memories are stored out of our conscious awareness until required, so the experiences of the fire chief enabled him, without bringing those memories into conscious awareness, to know just when to get his men out of a burning building.

Brain waves

Having a brain wave is usually associated with coming up with a great new idea or solution. These flashes of inspiration seem to be unpredictable and come out of the blue. Imagine if you could influence your ability to have brain waves... Sounds a bit fanciful?

When we have a brain wave it is usually unexpected and we are doing or thinking about something completely different. By switching from one activity to another, we give our brain a chance to work differently.

During our evolution, our brains have developed to work in different ways at different times. Our hunter/gatherer ancestors needed to be fully alert when they went out hunting, but being that alert would not help them go to sleep.

An electroencephalographic (EEG) machine measures the electrical activity in our brain. Records of electrical activity, measured in Hz (cycles per second), show that there are four distinct types of brain waves, which are associated with certain activities.


These waves dominate our normal waking state of consciousness when our attention is directed towards the outside world. In this state, our brain waves range between 15 and 40 Hz and we enjoy peak concentration, together with heightened alertness, hand/eye coordination and visual acuity – rather like our hunter/gatherer ancestors.


Alpha waves bring about deep relaxation, allowing our brains to begin to access the wealth of creativity that lies just below our conscious awareness. We are quietly alert, but with our attention inwards. In this state, our brain waves range between 9 and 14 Hz, mirroring the frequency known as Schuman Resonance – the resonant frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field.


These waves occur just before we fall asleep or as we awake. It is as though we are in a waking dream, with vivid imagery flashing before our mind’s eye. During Theta waves, we consolidate learning and access memory. In this state, our brain waves range between 5 and 8 Hz.


Delta waves are associated with deep sleep and certain Delta frequencies can trigger the release of human growth hormone, so are beneficial for healing and regeneration. In this state, our brain waves range between 0 and 4 Hz.

If you are in Beta mode, then it is unlikely you will be tuned into your intuition. In Alpha or Theta states you are much more likely to pick up the messages your intuition has for you. And what about Delta waves? Well, there is a lot of truth in the advice to ‘sleep on it’ when you have a problem, so that your brain can quietly work out how you can proceed in the morning!

There are also health benefits associated with Alpha and Theta brain waves, because in these states, stress levels are lower. There is more on this in the topic on Personal Energy and also some methods to induce the Alpha states.