Innovation relies heavily on data, experimentation, analysis and iteration. But does this leave a place for gut instinct?

Our instincts aren’t magical powers to be dismissed, they are a biological response designed to help us make snap decisions to detect prey, avoid risk and keep us safe.

Great innovation can start with an instinctive idea which can then be validated (or not) through rigorous testing and analysis.

On the downside of instinct, the desire to protect can sometimes lead to safe behaviours - not the kind that leads to radical innovation. 

A leader’s gut feels can work at start-up mode, but when scaling this will hinder rather than support innovation.

Likewise relying on a leader’s gut instinct doesn’t scale easily. A leader’s gut feels can work at start up mode, but when scaling this reliance can create a muted, disempowered culture that is slow to make decisions. Autonomy is vital.

That’s why gut instinct and analytical thinking go together – we can’t and shouldn’t rely on either one alone.

A great analogy can be found in recruitment. When interviewing potential employees, organisations use a selection criterion with each core capability scored and weighted. The scores are calculated, results are discussed, and an offer is made. But it’s not always the highest score that is chosen, quite often gut instinct or less quantifiable factors will come into play. Especially if a candidate has a high score on paper but left interviewers with a negative feeling.

A similar ranking system or criteria must be applied to innovation. A prudent organisation will have an Innovation Strategy that balances its risk tolerance and innovation objectives. Using this, teams can consider their markets, competition and customers, the uniqueness and usability of the ideas presented, as well as the resources (time, money, expertise) it will take to deliver it.

This approach does not eliminate uncertainty, after-all the future value of the project will remain unknown until it’s complete. To increase confidence, innovators can experiment with the ideas and the more practised an organisation gets at testing and evaluating, the more proficient it will become at predicting and balancing the risks and rewards.          

Gut instinct certainly has a place in innovation, but it should be part of a much wider selection process. When people ‘have a feeling’, ‘can feel it in their gut’, or ‘just know it’ they are displaying a passion that should not be dismissed.

Passion drives innovation but the process makes it a success.

Want to know more about building an dynamic team of innovators, creating your own Innovation Portfolio, or developing and Innovation Strategy? Join us for our one-day Masterclass - Leading Innovation.

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