Trusting Your Gut As A Critical Ingredient For Creating Innovations

Call it a hunch. An Instinct. Intuition. Following these kinds of “gut feelings” often lie behind the creation of great companies and great products that we love.  Steve Jobs is often held up as a leader who deeply trusted his gut, going so far as to say, “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

In this short article, The Neuroscience of Trusting Your Gut, the idea of the “hunch” is presented as a somatic marker, or physiological clue of what to do next. The example given in the article is one which most of us are familiar with. We find ourselves in a bad neighborhood, we see a suspicious looking person and our instincts tell us to run instead of spending time collecting other fact-based inputs. We unquestioningly trust our gut in this situation.

In business, however, trusting the gut can often much more difficult. I frequently see clients I work with struggle with the decision of pursuing something they believe to be the right path in their gut vs. what they think they should do. One of my very favorite examples of this was a wonderfully visionary leader who I remember holding (and caressing) a piece of paper that had Option A on it while she made the logical case for choosing Option B. Luckily, I was fresh off of spending a week learning about somatics  at Strozzi Institute, and quickly picked up on this clue. After it was brought to her attention, she acknowledged the conflict she felt and we worked through the concerns she felt about Option A that had unconsciously held her back from choosing it. Ultimately, she followed Option A to great success, partially because it was such a new and exciting path to pick.

It is so easy for us to suppress our gut instincts in favor of logical though in business that sometimes we are not even aware of doing so. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that, unless you are at a certain level (CEO?) in an organization, following your gut alone can be a punishable offense. Without the right supporting data or research, it can be impossible to get funding or investment dollars to explore a new line of business. And while there is good reason for businesses to be so pragmatic, knowing how to conduct research in the pursuit of discovering new products requires very specific expertise. So instead, many tend to err on the side of the safe and predictable. Things that we can easily, and logically, explain having done if we need to. Things that we know how to accomplish, even if they are not very exciting.

In reality, the gut is a repository of experience that we build over time, intertwining our emotions and reason. “You don’t just remember facts, whether the outcome was good or bad, but you remember whether what we felt was good or bad,” says Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California and head of the Brain and Creativity Institute in the attached article. “That tandem of fact and associated emotion is critical: what we construct as wisdom over time is actually the result of cultivating that knowledge of how our emotions behaved and what we learn from them.”

If you are up for a challenge in 2014, I’d suggest trying to listen to your gut more often when pursing new, innovative work. Not to follow it down blind alleys with reckless abandon, but as a helpful check to gauge the wisdom of the decisions you make. If you feel a sense of excitement surrounding an idea that the numbers don’t support, take some time to investigate it more fully to understand what makes it so appealing. Likewise, if you feel disappointment or loss when discarding an option that you were considering, take a moment and look deeper into that feeling. What exactly is it that is hiding inside the idea that you are leaving behind? In either case it’s likely your subconscious was trying its best to give you a clue to your next move.

One of my favorite tricks for checking in with my gut is to flip a coin when making a difficult decision, then check in to see if I feel reaffirmed or disappointed with the result of the coin flip. It is a surprisingly simple and helpful tool.

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Three Wishes To Make LinkedIn Groups more Productive In 2014

I remember a time, five or so years ago, when LinkedIn groups were first gaining traction. It felt like there were good discussions happening and the people that were fellow group members were genuinely interested in connecting and sharing their thinking about the industry or topic around which the group was centered. Now, perhaps it is just the groups that I’m part of, but it seems like most have become shameless dens of self-promotion. The discussions that do happen seem like they are started by one consultant or another, and they often ask some self-serving question like, “What is the most important reason to hire a consultant?” Then, other consultants provide the answers.

I’m sure that there are many great groups out there, and ultimately the group administrators are the ones who have responsibility to set the guidelines and encourage the type of interactions they are looking to promote. However, it feels like the need that these groups were serving in the early days is still there, and perhaps it’s time for a different approach. I’ve completely checked out of almost every group that I’m a part of, and I’m not entirely certain what would bring me back. But here are a few wishes.

  1. I wish that self-promotion could be treated like spam emails.
  2. I wish that discussions felt more like an intimate conversation between peers instead of trying to talk at a sports venue with peanut vendors roaming the aisles.
  3. I wish there was a way to be notified about the discussions which I would truly be interested in, and which the initiator would like me, or someone like me, to participate. Amazon does this with products which I might be interested in, so I’m sure LinkedIn could do the same with discussions.

Do these three wishes resonate with you? What else would you like to see LinkedIn do to make its groups more productive?

Function. Balance. Flexibility. – What Business Can Learn From Stanford Football in 2014

Although we Stanford alums had a bit of a setback in the Rose Bowl this year, we still have a football team of which we can be very proud. Part of what I believe makes this team so appealing to Stanford alums is not only that it wins, but also that it wins with an interesting mix of power and intellect. Part of what has made Stanford so successful in recent years is the ability to harness both of these traits in its unique approach to strength and fitness training, as described in The New York Times.

This is a fascinating article in which Shannon Turley, Stanford’s Kissick Family Director of Football Sports Performance, shares his perspective on the kind of training that builds high-performing college football and NFL players. Surprisingly, Turley points to factors such as ankle mobility as a key to success on the field, instead of traditional measures like bench press or 40 yard dash times. And given the very low rate of serious injury on a team that is known as one of the most physical in college football, it would seem like he is on the right track. 

There are a lot of parallels between what Stanford is looking for in its football players and what CEOs are looking for in their employees. In the most recent IBM Global CEO Study, CEOs identified flexibility as one of the core traits that they seek in new employees. As noted in the report, “CEOs are increasingly focused on finding employees with the ability to constantly reinvent themselves. These employees are comfortable with change; they learn as they go, often from others’ experiences.” Although I’ve also heard CEOs and other senior leaders use words such as agile and resilient to describe what they are looking for, I think they are all describing the same thing. They want people who can be successful in any circumstance, and who are able to change direction quickly as the world changes around them.

As more companies look for these kind of employees and skill sets to secure their future, they would be remiss if they did not have a Shannon Turley of their own on staff. While it is easy to agree that having a flexible, resilient workforce is a benefit for an organization, actually building one can be difficult. And, just like a winning football team, a winning organization requires someone who is solely focused on building its “players” to achieve their very best.

Who do you know that is doing a great job at this? Or has made a commitment to do so in 2014?

Another Brilliant Chipotle Video

Chipotle has followed up on its incredible “Back to the Start” video with an equally outstanding production in “The Scarecrow”. Watching it, one would hardly believe that it will end up as an advert for an iOS game of the same name (coming to an App Store near you). The video, and the game, both support Chipotle’s message of “Food with Integrity” and take a swipe at factory farming in the process. Additionally, Fiona Apple supplies a haunting soundtrack with her cover of “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, providing a worthy follow-up to Willie Nelson’s version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” from the original video.

I can only hope the next video in this series comes out in less than two years. I can honestly say that there has never been a corporate-produced video that I have watched over and over for pure enjoyment, with the exception of Chipotle’s work. It combines story, emotion, and a message with great direction. The result is incredibly impactful. There is a reason that we take our kids to Chipotle every weekend, and it’s not because I like paying $1.80 for guacamole. It’s because Chipotle is one of the few places where I can always feel good about what our kids are eating. And that is something worth promoting.

Think About The “User Experience” When You Write Your Next Email

I thought this article was pretty brilliant. It brings “user experience” into the conversation, as in, “what is the user experience you want to create for the reader of your email?” I know that from personal experience, the concise emails that I receive are more quickly responded to, and that longer rambling emails that I receive typically sit in my inbox for months.

Lessons in Team Dynamics From Despicable Me’s Minions

A well functioning team can make work a joy.  A poorly functioning team can make work feel like drudgery.  The surprising thing for many teams is just how fine a line there is between the two.

Why?  Although there are a myriad of possible reasons for team performance, the minute interactions that bounce between people while they work together often play an outsized role.  These almost invisible interactions can quickly build a healthy team or shift people away from their positive intent into a subconscious, destructive, escalating game of tit-for-tat.

I love how a very common disruptive interaction is so perfectly captured in this great video of the Minions singing their catchy little Banana Potato Song.

This video has provided endless hours of fun in our household with our five-year-old occasionally exclaiming, “Potato!” when he walks into a room.  I love the brilliance of the subtle expressions that the animators captured in these little creatures and how accurately they portray the underlying emotions.

Take a moment and watch the video again and see what is happening in a different way.  Imagine this as a team meeting and the solo is an “idea” offered by a team member while the party horn is the well-intentioned “voice of reason” saying things like, “But you can’t do that because… (budget constraints, resources, not realistic, etc.)”

Go ahead, hit play again and see it how I see it…

Time

Observation

0:00

The meeting begins with a welcome from the first Minion.

0:07

The second Minion from the left (Soloist) has a flash of inspiration and offers his idea, his solo, to the group.  He looks excited about it and wants to share it.

0:08

The third Minion from the left (Party Horn) looks disengaged with his hands in his pockets and gives Soloist a sideways glance.

0:11

Party Horn interrupts Soloist, explaining why Soloist’s idea won’t work.  Soloist keeps going.

0:14

Party Horn again interrupts.  Soloist looks at Party Horn, possibly annoyed.  Others do not appear to have noticed the growing tension between Soloist and Party Horn.

0:17

Party Horn interrupts again.  This time Soloist appears visibly upset at Party Horn.

0:22

Soloist seems to shrug it off and rejoins the meeting with a fresh idea.

0:25

Soloist now has an angry look and stares at Party Horn who is constantly interrupting now.

0:30

Soloist raises his voice to talk over Party Horn.

0:35

Soloist now positions his body to be turned away from Party Horn.  The fourth Minion looks towards Soloist and Party Horn, perhaps sensing a growing tension.

0:40

Soloist, apparently fed up and unable to take it anymore, extracts his revenge by lashing out at Party Horn.

0:42

Party Horn, flat on his back, asks, “What did I do to deserve that?”

I think the most instructive part of the video is to watch Party Horn.  At no point does he look like he has anything but good intentions.  His intent appears to be doing what he believes best supports the group’s goal, while the effect is that Soloist gets more and more upset.  Party Horn keeps on tooting along, oblivious to the situation.  Soloist’s big moment has been ruined, and revenge will be his with a swift punch to the head.

Believe me, we’ve seen this exact situation play out thousands of times in teams, so many times in fact that we have a name for it – the “Discount-Revenge Cycle”.  The only difference is that “Revenge” in most companies is not a punch to the face.  Typically, “Revenge” shows up as making pointed or defensive comments in the moment, complaining to others offline, or eventually withdrawing from a working relationship if these interactions happen frequently enough.

So how do we have great teamwork when there is a “Party Horn” in the room?

The next time you find yourself working in a team and someone else (or you?) is continually interrupting or pointing out the flaws in the ideas of others, stop and ask if they (or you?) are acting like Party Horn.  Do they (or you?) think they are adding to the “song” while being unaware of the frustration they may be causing within others?

You might be surprised that my primary offer is for the Soloist in this video.  If he can “Assume Positive Intentions” in Party Horn’s actions, he will be able to change the dialogue and understand the value that Party Horn is trying to bring to the team and avoid coming unhinged.  We’re all imperfect communicators and the more latitude and understanding that we give as we listen to each other, the better we will understand each other, achieve successful outcomes, and avoid giving / receiving an unexpected punch to the face.

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.