Instinctual Innovation versus Intellectual Innovation

One of the best Twitter names that I’ve come across recently is @ShowerThinker. 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:

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?

Braden Kelley (@innovate on Twitter)

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Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Director of Innovation and Human-Centered Problem-Solving at Oracle, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and 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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