"If people have the ability to sense the future, why aren't they rich?" This is one of the most frequent questions I've been asked by readers of my book The Power of Premonitions. The fact is, some are very rich, and they attribute their wealth in part to their ability to sense the future. As Bill Gates says, "Sometimes, you have to rely on intuition." Or as Oprah states, "My business skills have come from being guided by my inner self -- my intuition." And as Donald Trump admits, "I've built a multi-billion empire by using my intuition."

But what do these highly successful individuals mean by intuition? Most people agree that intuition is a kind of instinctive knowing, without the support of logic, analysis, inference, or actual evidence. When an intuition involves a prediction or a sense of what will happen in the future, the intuition becomes indistinguishable from a premonition, a feeling or belief that something is going to happen.

Evidence suggests that the use of premonitions in business is widespread and is correlated with financial success. The favored term for this ability is not premonitions, however, but "business intuition." There is a growth industry purporting to teach people how to unleash their intuitive powers in the business world. Google specifies over a quarter million Web sites devoted to "business intuition."

Businessmen invoke premonitions routinely. Examples include a sense of which direction business cycles are headed, the future strength of the stock market, what actions the Fed will take, and what the level of consumer confidence will be over the next year. Decisions about acquisitions, sell-offs, layoffs, and investments in capital equipment are often made on hunches and gut feelings, not logical inferences or rational predictions. Investors often speak of "rolling the dice" in making a decision, implying that they're relying on something other than logic. Skeptics often say these kinds of decisions are based on good market research or a deep intellectual understanding of the investment and financial worlds, and of course they frequently are. But something more appears to be involved.

In a classic study at the University of Texas at El Paso in the 1980s, management professor Weston H. Agor tested the intuition of 2,000 managers and found that the top-level leaders scored higher on intuition than those ranking lower in the corporate hierarchy. These executives typically digested all the relevant information first, but when the data was incomplete or confusing they shifted to intuitive approaches in making a decision. Interestingly, they were hesitant to disclose to their colleagues that they relied on intuition, preferring instead to be thought of as cool intellectuals guided solely by reason.

In the mid-1970s, parapsychology researcher Douglas Dean and professor of engineering John Mihalasky of Newark Institute of Technology performed a series of experiments that shed light on this area. They spent ten years studying 385 chief executive officers of U. S. corporations. These CEOs were asked to guess at a 100-digit number that did not exist at the time the guesses were made. Then the number was produced by a computer using random generating techniques. The results were then correlated with the financial reports issued by the executives' corporations. Dean and Mihalasky found that 80 percent of executives whose companies' profits had more than doubled in the past five years had above-average precognitive powers. "It was so definitive," writes remote-viewing researcher Stephan A. Schwartz in his review of these experiments, "that Dean was able to examine financial reports and predict in advance how a given CEO would do in his experiment."

There is no way these CEOs could have used logic or inference in predicting a string of numbers before the computer had even generated them. They were using premonitions.

Since the Dean-Mihalasky number-guessing findings were published over thirty years ago, the test has been administered to people of all ages and in various walks of life. Results indicate that precognitive ability does not correlate with intelligence. In fact, Dean and Mihalasky found that engineering students with higher grade-point averages did slightly worse than students making lower grades.

An interesting outcome of Dean and Mihalasky's work with CEOs was the high percentage of them -- around 80 percent -- who acknowledged a private belief in ESP. When questioned, they admitted their belief was not based on either a familiarity with the scientific literature or an acquaintance with psychics, but because they'd seen it work in their own lives.

What happens when premonitions, acknowledged as such, are put to the test in a business context?

In 1982 the St. Louis Business Journal pitted nineteen prominent stockbrokers against a St. Louis psychic, Beverly Jaegers. Jaegers was a reluctant psychic -- originally a skeptic and debunker of psi phenomena -- until her own experiences changed her mind. In the experiment, each participant was asked to select five stocks whose value they believed would increase over the next six months. Although Jaegers had no training in corporate analysis, she outperformed eighteen of the nineteen financial experts. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell eight percent over the six-month period, but the stocks picked by Jaegers increased in value by 17.2 percent. A single stockbroker did better -- barely -- at 17.4 percent.

Jaegers had attracted national attention in the 1970s when Pete Dixon, a commodities broker, decided to put her psychic skills to the test. He came to her with a sealed envelope containing a prediction that coffee prices would increase, and asked her to elaborate on its contents. In reporting the incident in a retrospective of Jaegers's career, journalist Stefene Russell says, "[She] saw heavy rain and people carrying baskets with a few shriveled red berries in the bottom of each." Dixon was excited. He promised to buy Jaegers a new house if what she said proved true. "He bought voluminous shares in coffee, just in time to watch the price shoot up after a freeze in Brazil decimated the crop. He made millions and made good on his promise, giving Jaegers a check . . . which she used to buy a new house . . . "

If the situation with premonitions were as straightforward as it seems in the Jaegers case, all psychics would be wealthy and on the boards of large corporations commanding huge salaries. The fact that they are not attests to the imprecise, capricious, and often invalid nature of premonitions. Other factors may limit the effectiveness of premonitions in the business world, such as greed and purity of purpose.

The experiments I've mentioned, and many more that I discuss in The Power of Premonitions, strongly suggest that premonitions are extremely common and are perhaps present to some degree in everyone. Yet they are often ignored, and they can be overridden and swamped by the lesser angels of our nature, such as unbridled greed and avarice. Some experiments employing precognition to make money also suggest that there may be an internal calculus whereby profits are linked to a "spiritual focus," as physicist Targ suggests. No one ever accused Wall Street of being spiritually focused. Is this one reason for its current calamity?

Many who inhabit the financial world are uncomfortable, of course, with anything resembling a "spiritual focus." They need not be. "Spirituality" is simply a sense of connectedness with something greater than the individual self or ego. Spirituality also involves a sense of how one fits into the overall patterns of the greater world, and therefore brings with it a sense harmony and connectedness. When we ignore our premonitions and those nudges from within, these patterns may remain obscure or they may break -- as we and Wall Street have unfortunately seen.

Can premonitions be cultivated? Are there guidelines for their use? Are there cautions about following premonitions? I believe the answer to all these questions is yes, as I discuss in The Power of Premonitions. We have every reason to engage these questions, because they can lead us to honor one of the most ancient and precious abilities we humans posses -- the ability to sense the future.

©2009 Larry Dossey, M.D., author of The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives

Author's Bio: 

Larry Dossey, M.D., author of The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives, is a leader in bringing scientific understanding to spirituality, and rigorous proof to alternative medicine. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Healing Words, the first serious look at how prayer affects healing. He has been featured several times by Oprah -- her TV show, radio show, and magazine -- and is an international advocate for the role of the mind in health and the role of spirituality in healthcare. He lives in New Mexico.