Why Leaders Should Channel The Counterintuitive 

When the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, fishermen knew from the wisdom of their ancestors to head OUT to sea. To head TOWARDS the giant wave.

In a study of professional league soccer goal keepers, it was found the highest rate of success in stopping the ball in penalty kicks was not to jump to the right or to the left, but merely to stay in the centre. By a considerable margin.

During WWII, statistician Abraham Wald was asked to help the British decide where to add armour to their bombers. After analysing the records, he recommended adding more armour to the places where there was no damage!

The RAF was initially confused. Wald only had data on the planes that returned to Britain, so the bullet holes he saw were all in places where a plane could be hit and still survive. Wald recommended adding armour to the places where the surviving planes were lucky enough to have not been hit.

What do these examples have in common? They are counterintuitive.

When there is a pressing issue in leadership or a crisis to respond to, it would seem that the logical thing to do is to react or move quickly into action. In fact, countless studies have demonstrated that pausing, waiting – even momentarily – is actually the best approach.

You’re too busy to make time for exercise? That’s the time you need it most.

Scheduling an hour a week in your diary for reflection when you have demands constantly shouting at you? Counterintuitive?  Yes. Productive? Absolutely.

When you want to run a mile from a situation? Maybe that’s the time to run towards that which you are so desperately trying to avoid.

How can you channel the counterintuitive?

Face what you fear.

Stop when it seems logical to run faster.

Do the exact opposite of what you have always done.

Lean into counterintuitive behaviour like those Japanese fishermen. Do something contrary to what you would intuitively expect is the right thing. And see what happens…


Leave a Comment

Recent Posts from The Leader's Digest

Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

Welcome to

The Leader's Digest

Subscribe to The Leader’s Digest

Receive trending leadership topics and tips, straight to your inbox.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email address.
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Internationally Recognised


The Leader's Digest App