When conducting job interviews, an organisation doesn’t usually choose the successful candidate on a hunch. Nor would an organisation invest hundreds of thousands in capital infrastructure because they’ve an inkling it’ll be money well spent. So why is it that when it comes to innovation many companies make their decisions on gut instinct?

Perhaps during a brainstorming session, an idea blossoms that everyone “just knows” is a winner. Or perhaps a handful of good ideas have arisen, but with the limited budget it’s decided that only one can go through to the next stage, so it’s a case of going with the one that the majority “feel” will be more successful. But can a “feeling” weigh up the Company’s markets, competition, consumers, resources and strategy, or is it about as efficient as pin the tail on the donkey?

Let’s consider the recruitment analogy. When interviewing potential employees, most organisations have selection criteria which are scored and weighted. At the end of the process, the scores are calculated, the results discussed and an offer made. Sometimes, the highest scorer isn’t chosen, and that’s where ‘feelings’ and other less quantifiable measurements are applied, but likewise it’s unlikely that the lowest scorer will be employed just because the panel ‘liked’ them. A balance is found, and a well informed decision is made.

A similar ranking system should be applied to innovation. A prudent organisation will have an innovation portfolio that balances its risk tolerance and innovation objectives. It will consider their markets, competition and customers, as well as their resources (time, money, expertise), whilst simultaneously relating it back to the overall innovation strategy. Such organisations never have all their eggs in one basket, but they also recognise the power of taking risks. 

Just as it is difficult to choose an employee because you never really know how they’ll perform until they’re in situ, creating an innovation portfolio is challenging because the future value of an Innovation project is unknown due to the very nature of it being new and incomplete. However, unlike in recruitment, in innovation one of the best ways to figure out which ideas have merit and whether or not they will work, is to experiment constantly. Fortunately, the more practised an organisation gets at testing and evaluating, the more proficient it will become at predicting and balancing the risks and rewards.          

Gut instinct can have its place in innovation but it should be part of a much wider selection process. When people have that “feeling” or “just know it”, they’re displaying a passion that should not be dismissed. After all, passion drives innovation, but it’s the process that makes it successful.     

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