The Innovation Blog

Lin-sanity, Innovation and The Educated Gut

Posted by David Culton on March 7, 2012

Jeremy LinThough I'm not a Knicks fan, I must admit that I've been caught up in "Lin-sanity": the meteoric (and still very early) rise of Jeremy Lin, an unheralded, journeyman bench player who several weeks ago was on the verge of another cut but has put together the most impressive start for a player's first 5 games in the past 40 years. Better than Bird, Jordan or Lebron. Who could have guessed?

Finding the stars in your portfolio of ideas is a little like finding an NBA player -- some are fast-tracked for stardom and shine (or don't), and it's the 'scouts' (product managers, marketers, R&D folks) job to sniff out the good and great ones. Some ideas are like Jeremy Lin was -- they have the potential, but fall through the cracks, maybe not even making it to the 'bench'. What if you could find those diamonds in the rough, just one or two, that reside in your organization? What value would that bring to your organization? To your customers?

So how do you do that? One way is to revisit your old ideas with new eyes, but lets stick with our athletic analogy for the moment. As in sports, the larger business world has a variety of metrics (definitive market potential, ROI after x years, etc.) that are used to pick the strong ideas. With breakthrough ideas -- ones that bring something truly new to the game -- these types of metrics are often what we call "imaginary numbers", because breakthrough innovation by definition means there is nothing to compare it to; it has no frame of reference. Then what do you rely on? To me there are two major tools: a process that nurtures rather than kills new ideas and something that we call The Educated Gut.

Criteria vs. Metrics
We once worked with a client who had historically required the Net Present Value of an idea immediately following ideation. Truly new ideas wither and die rather quickly in this environment. Instead, rate beginning ideas on a few (4-5) criteria, and use that in concert with an evaluation model that preserves what's good about an idea, while clearly identifying flaws (and they've all got them) in a way that encourages problem solving. We call this an Open-Minded Evaluation. Some of the criteria we find are the most powerful are:

  • Strategy:  Does this fit with our strategy and align with our vision of the future?
  • Need: Does this address an important consumer/customer need (whether articulated or not)?
  • Impact: Opportunity Size -- Is there a sizable market with money to spend?
  • Feasibility:  Can it be done technically within a given timeframe?
  • Feel:  Most important -- What does your “Educated Gut” say?

At this early stage, do your ideas pass this SNIFF test? The answer is likely very different than if you use traditional metrics. And even these criteria should be used to evaluate the whole picture, not just as a "yea/nay". A few informative dimensions will help you look objectively at the concepts from both a 'business' and 'gut' point of view, so that you can make more holistic decisions.

The Educated Gut
What if you were able to harness the collective experience of your organization, to get at what they really believe about an idea vs. what they can absolutely justify? And what if that was valued in your organization? Your people have boatloads of experiences and knowledge from inside and outside of your industry that inform their sense of value. This goes beyond 'the numbers' and taps into the vast pool of the unconscious (that large percent of our brains that we don't actively use and gets pounded into silence in pursuit of The Right Answer). Here are some ways to tap into it:

  • Make a conscious effort to develop or rediscover your Educated Gut. Play around with it as you make smaller decisions, in all aspects of your life. Read about it here and elsewhere.
  • Don't shy away from it, just because it isn't part of your culture (yet) - It will require persistence and faith.
  • Work to create a culture that embraces the Educated Gut -- If you are a leader, encourage and honor it from those who report to you

Most organizations have a Lin or two in their ideation portfolios that are currently on the bench. If you are looking for growth through innovation, you've got to get them out on the court. All you need to do is find them.

David Culton (@davidculton)

Creative Realities, inc.
Innovation Management Consulting for Growth


Image by DvYang under license by Creative Commons

Topics: open-minded evaluation, David Culton, Educated Gut, Innovation criteria, new product development