Analyzing hard data? A corporate brainstorming session? Customer focus groups? Or closer to home?
Successful people don’t wait for proof that their idea will work. They learn to trust their gut and go.
In Hunch, international bestselling author and business adviser Bernadette Jiwa shows you how to harness the power of your intuition so you can recognize opportunities others miss and create the breakthrough idea the world is waiting for. She explores inspired hunches, from one that led to the launch of the breakout GoldieBlox brand to another that helped a doctor reduce infant mortality rates around the world.
Filled with success stories, reflection exercises, and writing prompts, Hunch is the indispensable guide to embracing your unique potential and discovering your own winning ideas.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
What's Stopping You? Hang-ups and Hurdles
You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.
You Know More Than You Think
I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am.
It doesn't seem that long ago since encyclopedia salesmen came door knocking on the street where I grew up. They offered flexible payment terms in order to sell thick, leather-bound volumes to working-class parents who couldn't always understand their contents, never mind afford the payments. Even as a nine-year-old, I was skeptical about the wisdom of deferring to our new Encyclopedia Britannica for every answer. How could the information about world population printed on the page in 1975 still be accurate as I read it from the weighty book on my lap a whole year later? How could these facts, that my parents hadn't yet finished paying for the privilege of owning, possibly be accurate?
Fast-forward forty years. The iPhone has been in existence for only ten years and has changed everything. Thanks to the internet and digital media, Wikipedia and Google, we have more up-to-the-minute information at our fingertips than we can ever consume.
We could be forgiven for thinking that facts, figures and findings communicate the whole truth and hold the keys to unlocking the value in every future opportunity. New digital tools and technologies not only give us more information about the world around us and the other people in it, but also help us to know more about ourselves. We can literally monitor every step we take and every calorie we consume. The great hope is that if we can gather enough data, we will have the power to change the things we want to change-and that we can do it without having to face the fear of uncertainty.
Data-that which we can easily measure-is supposed to make us smarter, and maybe it can, but I'd argue that it doesn't always make us wiser. Many of our actions and reactions can be observed and quantified, but that data doesn't always expose the truth about why we take or have them. If it did, we would have found a way to stop people smoking cigarettes, overeating, gambling and drinking to excess. All of the health data that scientists use to persuade us to change our behavior doesn't necessarily have any effect. Hard facts tell only part of the story.
Things are no different when it comes to evaluating the potential of ideas. Where was the data that predicted the need for and subsequent success of Google, Facebook and the iPhone, or the decline of Kodak, BlackBerry and orange juice? Which analyst forecast the 250 percent increase in almond milk sales in the U.S. over the past five years? Who anticipated that yoga pants would unseat jeans in popular culture, to spawn an active-wear revolution that will help the sports-apparel market be worth a predicted $178 billion globally by 2019? And what about coloring books for adults, with an estimated 12 million sold in 2015 in the U.S. alone-who saw that juggernaut coming? When it comes to making predictions about which ideas will fly, we tend to forget that we can only use the information we have at hand about the past or the present to make a judgment call, or prediction about the future. We don't (or can't) know the significance of things we have no information about, or haven't yet thought to measure, and can't possibly know for sure.
And yet we crave certainty, so we keep amassing and putting our faith in data. That faith has been fractured and then shattered by recent political events. According to Steve Lohr and Natasha Singer of The New York Times, all the data (and there was a lot of it) put Hillary ClintonÕs chances of winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election at between 70 and 99 percent. As we know, these forecasts made by experts who had pored over every single possible data point turned out to be far from reliable. Lohr and Singer report Òa far-reaching change across industries that have increasingly become obsessed with data, the value of it and the potential to mine it for cost-saving and profit-making insights.Ó However, they also remind us that Òdata science is a technology advance with trade-offs. It can see things as never before, but also can be a blunt instrument, missing context and nuance.Ó This proved to be true in the case of the 2016 presidential election. It was easy to measure how people said they would vote, but far harder to gauge what was in peopleÕs hearts.
Because we love to measure and quantify things, Western schooling is awash with standardized tests that profess to establish the truth about intelligence and future potential-concrete data about who is likely to sink or swim. We are rewarded for knowing the right answers from a young age. So we learn to give them, because repeatedly coming up with the wrong, or unexpected, answers can put you at a distinct disadvantage both in school and beyond. In a world where those with the highest test scores get the best grades, go to the better colleges, get the top jobs and have the nicest lives, you'd better be certain of the facts. The result is that we have fallen into the trap of being unwilling to utter the three hardest words in the English language-"I don't know."
Couple such educational training with the "Only they could have done it" cultural narrative discussed earlier, and we have another obstacle to exploration and discovery: if we don't trust ourselves to come up with or evaluate good ideas, and we think creativity and brilliance are reserved for others, we'll be tempted to lean on data even more.
The obvious problem here is that we can never be 100 percent certain of anything, so we need to learn to act even in the face of uncertainty. The not-so-obvious problem is that the more we defer to hard data alone to shine a light on the truth, the more we neglect opportunities to nurture our inherent curiosity, develop emotional intelligence and cultivate imagination.
It turns out that knowledge and wisdom are not necessarily the same things at all. If, as Francis Bacon is thought to have said, "Knowledge is power," then how we question, learn from, interpret and act on what we find to be true-our understanding and resulting choices and actions-is what makes us powerful beyond all measure. In our data-saturated (and data-obsessed) world, facts and logic are king and intuition gets a bad rap. Author Michael Lewis describes the "powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms" that came about as a result of the work of scientists in the field of behavioral economics, pioneered by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their groundbreaking research exposed the flaws in human judgment as it relates to decision making. The scientific evidence has subsequently led us to throw the baby out with the bathwater and to dismiss the important role intuition plays in igniting discovery and innovation. Even in the scientific community, intuition helps to formulate hypotheses that are subsequently tested in experimental methods. In addition, as Cathy O'Neil says in her book Weapons of Math Destruction (Penguin, 2016), the popularity of algorithms "relies on the notion they are objective, but the algorithms that power the data economy are based on choices made by fallible human beings." In spite of this we still question the need to trust the facts far less than we question the insights we glean from our observations and experience. We are in danger of becoming a generation of plugged-in, look-it-uppers who are more ready to take things at face value and less willing to inquire or explore. More satisfied with proof and less open to discovery. More inclined to consume rather than create. More fearful of uncertainty than open to possibility.
What we need to remember is that not all of the useful information we can gather can be precisely measured and carefully graphed. What we observe in the everyday about what's working and what's not, why this is chosen and that is rejected, and how the world still turns when people say one thing and do another, can lead to the seemingly insignificant insights that change everything. When we are creating ideas that will exist in the world, we must take that world into account-all of it, not just a logical, thin-sliced or convenient view of it. In 1929 Einstein astonished his peers in the scientific community when he said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," but as physicist S. James Gates points out, having mulled over Einstein's words for many years, the reason they ring true is because "imagination turns out to be the vehicle by which we increase knowledge. And so if you don't have imagination, you're not going to get more knowledgeable."
The good news is that we instinctively understand more than we give ourselves credit for and we didn't learn it all from Britannica, Wikipedia or Google. Every day, we have access to vast amounts of information that we unconsciously collect. While this other kind of data is subjective, it's still useful and it can-it must-be put to work. If we train ourselves to become more observant, if we pay attention-to our surroundings, to other people, to what's happening that shouldn't be, or what's not happening that should be-our most mundane experiences can fuel our boldest and most brilliant ideas.
Our Insights Are Only as Good as Our Questions
Sometimes questions are more important than answers.
Should the hyperlink be green or blue? If it's blue, how do we know we've chosen exactly the right shade of blue? Tomasz Tunguz, former product manager for Google AdSense, sheds some light on just how involved looking for the correct answer can become: "At Google, we tested everything. User interfaces, advertising targeting models, even hiring practices. One product team tested forty-one different shades of blue to ensure maximum click-through rate; but the company is now testing black links."
In a digital environment, it's easy to get hard data-to test which color link most users click on and then use that information to enhance engagement or improve results. But now more than ever, fewer of the answers we seek are so black or white. And fewer of the conclusions that are truly valuable can be drawn from a simple yes or no. What if the better kind of question to ask isn't Which blue did they click on? or Did we get more people to check the box on the form? but How could our color preference data help us to improve the design of online tax forms? and How could user behavior analytics be used to encourage more people to opt into organ donation programs?
We live and work in an age when we are compensated for being decisive and making judgment calls about where to go next. We are rewarded for making people believe enough in our solution that they want to join us on the journey to either building or buying into it. The ability or inability to do these things is what either advances progress or stops it in its tracks. But because problems, potential solutions and opportunities can be complex, ambiguous or ill defined, there may not be a single right answer or best course of action to take in a given situation.
This lack of certainty makes us uncomfortable-and it's something we need to become accustomed to if we want to make progress. We can almost never have enough information to commit to a course of action without risk. And we often have to rely on the human intelligence of soft data to help us take the plunge. If we want to have the opportunity to be right, we have to entertain the possibility of simultaneously being wrong and taking action before we're certain.
Tesla Motors committed to designing and manufacturing its Model 3-an affordable mass-market electric car-even though when it was unveiled the company had delivered only 100,000 cars in its lifetime. Within twenty-four hours of the announcement, 200,000 people paid a $1,000 refundable deposit to preorder a Model 3, which would probably not be available for another two years. That number of preorders doubled to 400,000 in just two weeks. If every one of those preorders converts to a purchase, the total revenue will be $14 billion. Tesla didn't get there by making the "If we build it, they will come" assumptions a traditional car manufacturer might have made. They didn't use historic data to extrapolate sales projections. They got there by saying, "If you come, we will build it."
Great ideas always seem obvious after the fact-when we have proof that they worked or some outward measure of their success. In our new data-driven world, we have increasingly come to rely on proof as a starting point, forgetting that every breakthrough idea starts not with a surefire solution, but with a difficult or puzzling question. Innovation, creativity and invention happen in the uncertain pursuit of truth and with the desire to solve a problem. As Dr. Pauline Boss, Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota, puts it:
Scientific discoveries happen not through method or magic, but from being open to discovery by listening to one's emotions and responding to intuition. Like a poet, the researcher, as well as the therapist, needs the ability to imagine what the truth might be.
We need to imagine what the truth might be. The innovators at Google express it this way: we have to "bring questions, to build answers." Before we know for sure. The kinds of questions that gave us electric cars, the polio vaccine and even the granola bar-the ones that could one day bring balloon-powered internet access to people in the developing world-aren't the tired questions like Is this good enough? or Does it meet the spec? They are questions that invite discovery, ones that ask, What happens when?, Why won't it work? and What if it did?
This ability to question, to be imaginative and curious in the face of uncertainty and to act on the information we have, the things we sense but may not yet know to be true, is what enables us to pioneer, recognize opportunities and make a difference. And it's a skill we can cultivate with practice.
You should be aware at the outset that I'm not talking about crystal-ball gazing or punditry here (or anywhere else in this book). The ideas expressed are not about predicting what the stock market will do next week, or the odds that your team will win the league this season. These ideas are shared in order to help you hone the skills to ask better questions and trust your intuition so you can make decent judgment calls in situations where you don't have every shred of information about what might happen next. My hope is that you will learn to let go of the need to bring answers, in order to cultivate the ability to ask the questions that will get you to them.