Instinctual Innovation versus Intellectual Innovation

One of the best Twitter names that I’ve come across in the past few years is @ShowerThinker – almost as cool as mine – @innovate. It’s an account for an inventor that makes post-it notes for the shower called Aqua Notes.

This Twitter name captures a well-understood fact – that a lot of great ideas (and ultimately innovations) come to us not from brainstorming, but from the connection to our subconscious that occurs in the shower (or pretty much anywhere else in the bathroom). If so many great ideas come to us when our active mind is elsewhere, then why is such little attention paid to this source of innovation.

A lot has been written about creativity and the brain, left brain vs. right brain thinking, and how often the brain just needs to get out of its own way for creativity to occur as there is no single creative area of the brain.

In my own cuarto de bano moment, I came up with this contrasting phrase to help us frame the conversation – Instinctual Innovation versus Intellectual Innovation.

Intellectual Innovation begins with active efforts to capture and develop ideas using techniques such as brainstorming, greenhousing, etc.

Instinctual Innovation springs forth from a collection of sometimes un-connected information that collects in an individuals brain. Often ideas that form the basis for instinctual innovation rattle around as part of a collection of problems in search of solutions for a long time before emerging.

I’ve created this table to lay out some of the differences:

Instinctual Innovation versus Intellectual Innovation

Innovation has garnered a lot of attention in the press over the past couple of years, and many executives have the word rolling off their tongues quite easily now. In some organizations this has translated into employees being trained to be better intellectual innovators, or into creativity consultants helping stimulate the organization’s intellectual innovation for a particular project.

But much less attention is being paid to instinctual innovation. To build sustainable instinctual innovation you have to train members of your organization to be business innovators. You also need to provide members with a set of clear and actionable innovation goals along with a simple visual framework to decipher them. And, most importantly you have to invest in the organizational change necessary to create a culture of continuous innovation.

Then, and only then, will instinctual innovation be best able to emerge from any part of the organization on its own timeline and integrate with the intellectual innovation that is also going on at the same time.

Intellectual innovation can help drive the short-term growth of an organization. But, when combined with instinctual innovation, the two together can create an innovation engine to power the organization now and into the future.

What do you think?

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About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and creates B2B inbound marketing strategies that attract and engage customers, partners, and employees. He is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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2 Responses to Instinctual Innovation versus Intellectual Innovation

  1. I like the distinction you are drawing here, but always am a bit leery of seeing things presented in such a linear either/or format (maybe it’s just the visual that does that). And given the vast confusion that currently seems to reign about innovation, I wonder about introducing yet another framework/terminology unless it is surefire to bring clarity rather than stoke more confusion. I’m not sure which yours will do for folks.

  2. Pingback: Planning ECs 5/25/12 - AdaptableOrg.com

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