Creativity and Innovation
Insight, Intuition and Imagination in Business
Many organizational leaders, including many publicly known ones, have touted the benefits of new insights, intuition and greater imagination to achieve their success, but these concepts are often not widely understood let alone applied. In this brief article we therefore want to explain how these three “mental functions” are individually different in emphasis while also being complementary to one another. In addition, we’ll look at how these concepts can be practically promoted and applied in any business, large or small.
At the most simple level business insight arises from hard data of one kind or another. In other words, insight can be said to be the intelligent appraisal of what’s important from what may be a large pool of information. And to add more color, authors, Vriens and Verhulst suggest that a business insight can be said to be:
“A thought, fact, combination of facts, data and/or analysis of data that induces meaning and furthers understanding of a situation or issue that has the potential of benefiting the business or re-directing the thinking about that situation or issue which then in turn has the potential of benefiting the business.”
According to this definition then what’s critical about having insight is assembling solid data, have thinking people to then review it, and perhaps most importantly, to create a “listening-oriented” organizational culture to act on it, wherever useful. Insights are consequently the data/evidence-based foundation of past information on which decisions can be made.
Although we may have some intuitive thoughts relating the patterns and trends we see in the data which help us to develop our insights, intuition, according to renowned psychologists like Carl Jung is a decision-making or action-oriented function. What this means in practice is that we draw upon our intuition as a very fast way to immediately act upon what we perceive both tangibly (because we have reviewed the data in the past and have mental short-cuts we have retained) and intangibly (by making connections in the mind that help us to go in a new or different direction, for example). In general, intuition always appears to be an almost “instinctive” mental process that we “arrive at” rather the result of hard thinking. In other words these decisions can arise as guesses and hunches about what to do next rather than as a result on long reflective thought processes. This also means that intuition may create a very fast gut feel about a person or a situation but it may not necessarily be accurate once we have had more time to reflect and better interpret what we have experienced in the moment. In his recent book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” author Daniel Kahnemann called this system 1 and system 2 thinking, which confirms that we often need insight and intuition to work in tandem to get the best results.
As the third of our trio, Imagination (especially as it relates to business) is the one that most people think they best understand – it’s about coming up with new or different ideas or simply being creative in business. However, as the root of the word suggests in reality it’s much more about conjuring up a new image of the future or generating a new perspective of what could be. Put another way imagination is every person’s capacity to visualize a range of possible outcome in mental pictures. In practice therefore successful imagination in business often means generating a big “vision” about the future in our head (or the collective heads of a few people) usually without any constraints or limitations. This then serves as an idealized model that we can reflect upon, including what we would have to do today to make that vision a reality tomorrow.
Now that we have described each of these mental categories, we can start to see that although they all have their individual contributions to make, it is in combination that they have most power and impact. We need data-based insights which arise from a thirst for learning and spotting trends and patterns that have potential for new ways of thinking. Intuition then contributes to giving us a very fast appraisal about how we almost instinctively feel about the situations we are reviewing. And finally imagination adds the unconstrained dream of what could be in our mind, free of both data and feelings about the here and now, thereby giving our thinking impetus to start creating a new future.
So what can we say in summary? We clearly need all three of the above, insight, intuition and imagination to provide a well-rounded view but it may have now become clearer as to why. Insight is mainly focused on the past, or what we already know but can see freshly in a different light perhaps. Intuition is largely present focused and relies on the fast reacting chemical parts of our brain to see possibilities that the slower cerebral cortex has yet to process. And finally imagination is mainly future focused, providing us with a vision of what could be in our mind so that we can better see what we need to do now in order to bring it into being. If we therefore seek to apply all three of these mental functions as often as we can in our businesses, the benefits can potentially be huge.