Innovation and Intuition

A buzzword like innovation tends to lure us into false security. It is tempting to believe that innovation is simply something that you can inject into an organisation.  Today, every company says that it got innovation. The definition of the term varies from inventing a new product that has never existed to turning an overlooked commodity into a consumer snack like Craisins. Often the term is used to describe what is seen as “a very good product”.

But what is it? And what do you do? Set of rules for innovation can be contrasted with an approach that allows intuition and serendipity to play a part in the innovative process. Treating creativity either as something that simply happens or only happens in a structured way is perhaps not a fruitful approach. Each and everyone of us may have a personal preference for a certain approach, yet awareness of when to use creativity techniques and tools and when to rely on intuition is necessary.

Designing a framework for innovation where tools are used does not mean that there is no room for intuition. A mixture is good. Understanding of positive and negative aspects of different approaches helps us utilize the different approaches. Treating structure or serendipity as the enemy of creativity is not fruitful.

A framework for setting objectives and managing expectations is a necessary step in an innovation. Yet an idea may suddenly hit us that are not the fruit of a conscious use of a creative session. We may “feel” that this is right. An intuition is a perception of something that is beyond our “normal” range, yet still close enough to make us feel that something is sensible. It can be something that we usually take for granted without considering what we mean when we are referring to it – lacks a clear definition.

Intuition is often regarded as being independent of any reasoning process. Previously the term was often linked to the word irrational. Today, this narrow view has changed and intuition can refer to the skill that people use to making fast decisions. We can use intuition to know which solution we are going to use to make decisions.

Intuitively we may know that there is a connection between innovation and intuition. The creativity stimulus theory of Roger von Oech suggests that would-be innovators regard problems and opportunities from four distinct, apparently inconsistent perspectives. Roger von Oech suggests that the creative process consists of our adopting  roles, each of which embodies a different type of thinking.

  • Explorer –  a  thinker needs the raw materials from which new ideas are made: facts, experiences, knowledge, concepts, feelings and whatever else he or she can find.
  • Artist –  experiment with a variety of approaches,  follow intuition, rearrange, ask what-if questions and look for hidden analogies.
  • Judge –  evaluate and critically weigh the evidence, look for drawbacks in the idea
  • Warrior –  take the idea into battle to make sure that it succeeds –  may have to overcome excuses, idea killers, and other obstacles.

Regardless of the perspective, intuitive judgement may be needed to separate the good from the bad. A systematic approach may sometimes fail to illuminate the way to sound decisions. But it is crucial to be awareness of when different approaches to innovation are being used.  A premature judgement is the enemy to the creative process. In a similar way as a too rigid reliance on using tools can result in rigid decisions.

According to Hogarth intuition relies on

  • The capacity for visualization
  • The skill to acknowledge feeling and learn from them
  • The willingness to speculate and consider alternatives
  • The habit of testing perceptions, emotions, and speculations

And so does innovation.

Photo: “Hand Touching Ideas Button” by Stuart Miles

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