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Logic, guts and originality

In 1964, Barry Goldwater, a right-wing Republican Senator, ran for the American presidency under the campaign slogan: “In your heart you know he’s right”. 

He lost, by a landslide, to Lyndon B. Johnson partly because the Democrats parodied that slogan, suggesting it should read: “In your guts you know he’s nuts”. The parody stuck and Goldwater’s candidacy was doomed.

So what this politico-historic footnote got to do with innovation? The truth is every managing director’s working life is caught between those two slogans. Your gut instinct might tell you one thing but how do you know if your gut is nuts?

This question is especially troubling because, as Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, says in a recent interview (http://www.innovationexcellence.com/blog/ 2012/06/15/balancing-intuition-with-analysis/ ), “No new idea in the world has been proven before being tried.”

We work in a business culture dominated, Martin says, “by analytical thinking which holds that unless something can be proven by way of deductive or inductive logic, it is not worthy of consideration or investment.” Martin suggests this attitude is so powerful most managers accept it without even realising: “First they get dissuaded from innovating by others, then they dissuade themselves.”

The only remedy, Martin believes, is for managers to “nurture their originality”. Practice that, he says, and you become a better innovator. A laudable goal but you can, as Goldwater discovered, be too original for your own good. Still, business might be more interesting – and successful – if more managers heeded the words of American composer John Cage: “I can’t understand why people are so frightened of new ideas, I’m frightened of the old ones.”

 

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