Harnessing the power of strategic intuition

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Business Matter

Manish Shah is the former president of Midwest Law Printing in Chicago. He also worked at Intel, PwC and Motorola. He has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management, and a MS in Computer Science from Illinois Institute of Technology. He can be reached at manishshahus@yahoo.com.

By Manish Shah
Intuition can be classified into three categories: ordinary, expert and strategic. Ordinary intuition is just a gut feeling while expert intuition is the ability to make snap  judgments. Expert intuition lets you solve problems faster and faster as you get better at recognizing patterns. For example, expert intuition enables an experienced firefighter to make   lightning fast decisions in a crisis. 

According to William Duggan, the author of Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement, strategic intuition comes in the form of a thought that is actionable. It is different from ordinary intuition because ordinary intuition is just a feeling. Strategic intuition is also different from expert intuition because it is applicable in new situations. Some of the greatest human achievements can be attributed to strategic intuition — Bill Gates’ founding of Microsoft, Picasso’s invention of Cubism and Napoleon’s conquest of Europe. 

Duggan defines strategic intuition as “the selective projection of past elements into the future in a new combination as a course of action that fits your previous goals or sparks new ones.” Strategic intuition happens as a flash of insight when your mind is relaxed and connects the dots.

Modern business strategy is more focused on strategic analysis rather than coming up with a strategic insight. For example, Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy, tells you how to analyze your strategy in light of your industry and your competitors. But it leaves out the creative step of coming up with a strategic insight. This is where strategic intuition plays a key role. 

You can use the GE matrix (see the Google example) to systematically harness the power of strategic intuition. At the top of the matrix you list the current challenge. Then you list the elements of the solution — what you have to do well to solve the problem. Next you ask if anyone has ever made any progress in solving any elements of this puzzle and list these sources. If you find a combination that is good enough to try, you stop filling the matrix. There is always a possibility that you will come up empty-handed and that is alright. At some point, you might decide to stop searching and move on to a different problem because the flashes of insight don’t adhere to a timetable.

Challenge for Google: To develop a great search engine that generates revenue.(see Chart below.)

The process of gaining a strategic insight using the GE matrix matches the process that our brain follows, when we get a flash of insight. The brain wanders in an effort to bring different pieces of the puzzle together. When the brain finds all the pieces to a puzzle, it presents them as a complete solution.

Strategic intuition is a source of competitive advantage. Companies and individuals who leverage strategic intuition will have a distinct advantage over those who don’t.
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