First Comes Intuition, Then Comes Experiments

PHOTO BY Brian yap

PHOTO BY Brian yap

Don’t you hate it when headline writers mess with you to make you look? I sure do. 

“Intuition versus Experiments” is the classic false choice. Of course the right answer for entrepreneurs and corporate innovators (who are the same, in many ways) is to choose both. In that order.

My thinking here is informed by what Melody Roberts (now Senior Director of Experience Innovation at McDonald’s) told me back in 2008: “Let others validate.” That takes care of the experiments side of the equation. But intuition comes first.

Case example: On a project for AARP in 2011, we took on the challenge of helping the 45-60 year-old face their What’s Next moment. But which What’s Next moment? There were at least a dozen options, including dating, work, hobbies, travel, contribution, and so forth.

Our team of six used intuition to choose a short-list we thought we could truly impact with AARP’s existing brand and operating assets: (1) work/re-careering, (2) passion/hobby, and (3) community/local. Then we experimented by showing three conceptual experiences to a diverse set of target users, to let them pick the initial focus (of what went on to become Life Reimagined). The overwhelming choice was work/re-careering.

In other words, we took Melody’s advice: we let others validate (via a well-designed experiment). But we gave them a short list of three experiences from which to choose (intuition). That’s the right order. Because:

Intuition is used to frame choices, not to make them.

So don’t deride intuition as a crutch for the weak-minded or lazy. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character from “A Few Good Men,” we need intuition up on that wall. Think about it: what is intuition anyway? Intuition is what we know, but we can’t prove how we know. In “Blink” terms, it's what happens behind the curtain of consciousness.

In fact, the relationship between intuition and experiments is essential and time-honored. Science writer Steven Johnson extolls the virtues of “slow hunches” … that nagging intuition that contradicts what we’ve been taught, but seems to be true. Hunches and intuition are the grist of virtually every experiment in recorded history. From Galileo to Edison to … maybe you.  That’s why we need intuition up on that wall.

How about you? Have you seen intuition used to bypass the scientific process? Or to frame it? Leave a comment below or message me: togilvie@peerinsight.com.