Six Techniques to Sharpen and Expand Your Innovation Instincts

One of the most valuable things anyone can bring to the innovation process is great ideas for uniquely solving consumer needs. And, in order to bring novel (innovative) ideas to your organization, I have found that it is important to continually sharpen and expand your instincts and intuition.

Sharpen your Instincts

Malcom Gladwell in two of his books, Blink and Outliers, illustrates the value of sharpening one’s instincts and creating more intuitiveness. In Blink, Gladwell provides several deliciously compelling examples of the human “Adaptive Unconscious” at work. This Adaptive Unconsciousness is discussed as one’s ability to intuitively connect a myriad of seemingly disparate dots in a split second in order to form an accurate expert opinion. And, fortunately this Adaptive Unconsciousness is something that one can develop over time.

In Outliers, Gladwell makes the case for developing “expert” knowledge and abilities through what he calls “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Gladwell’s thesis is that after 10,000 hours immersed in a particular field or activity, one begins to have a seemingly innate level of knowledge or capability. Put another way, with 10,000 hours of effort you can take your Adaptive Unconsciousness (instincts and intuition) to a new, almost uncanny level. But at this point, one’s expertise is potentially narrow, and one way to bring even more value to your innovation process is to expand your instinctive base.

Expand your Instincts

IDEO’s Tom Kelley in The Ten Faces of Innovation espouses the value of a “T-Shaped” individual. The “T-Shaped” person is one who has an amazing breadth of knowledge across many fields, but also an incredible depth of expertise in at least one subject. And the value they contribute to the innovation process is their ability to bring new, novel and highly relevant ideas from the outside. I love how Kelley notes that “you are likely to be surprised by what you find out next” about these types of individuals – these types of people sound pretty interesting don’t they? And, I have to believe that many of the people who end up on Tom Peters’ Cool Friends List are “T-Shaped.”

“T-Shaped” people are the ones society labels insightful and wise. Not only do they have a highly sophisticated capacity to filter, process, and assemble a wide array of information in extraordinarily unique and relevant ways, they also seem to have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. These people would be characterized as being naturally curious; and the value “T-Shaped” individuals bring to the innovation process is that they frankly have the ability to see things others don’t see in all the things that everyone can see. They have and incredible, broadly-fed imagination and even Albert Einstein felt that imagination was often more important than knowledge.

Admittedly (and perhaps even thankfully), not everyone has a desire to be a “T-Shaped” innovator, but this is absolutely a trait that can be developed with effort and over time.


Andy Stefanovich in Look @ More discusses a number of things one can do to continually sharpen their instincts – both broadly and deeply. LAMSTAIH (Look At More Stuff Think About It Harder) is Stefanovich’s mantra for becoming a well-rounded, T-Shaped innovator. To me, “Think About It Harder” is similar to Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule. In order to develop subject matter (or skill-level) expertise, you have to put in the time. You’ve got to work at it- harder. And, you’ve got to think about it – harder.

To broaden your perspective or expand your innovator’s peripheral field of vision you need to reawaken and continually feed your curiosity. Simply put, you need to Look At More Stuff. All living things are born with curiosity, but all too often this is squelched in many humans beginning around the 3rd or 4th grade.

Six Techniques to Sharpen and Expand Your Innovation Instincts

So if the notion of being T-Shaped appeals to you, here are some ideas to help you reactivate some of your instinctual curiosity:

Occasionally take yourself out of your daily, weekly and monthly routines. You’ll be amazed by what doing something different or doing something differently can do for your mind. Read More…