How to Kill a Business with Great Numbers

There’s never been a new idea proven without first trying it.

Buried midway through an article on the creative process at FastCo Create, "Innovation - You’re Doing It Wrong: How To Put Intuition And Ideas Before Tests And Analyses," you'll find the following passage on the role of intuition in a game where one of two decks of cards is stacked against participants who must decide which deck will be more rewarding. What happens next is an important comment on the nature of creativity.

Subjects were asked to report when they could explain why they favored one deck over another. It required about 50 cards before a participant began to change their behavior and favor a certain deck, and about 80 cards before they became aware of why they did it. Rationality is a relatively slow process. But in addition to asking them to explain their decisions, they also measured their emotional responses by gauging how the electrical properties of skin responded to anxiety and stress.

The experimenters found that the body got 'nervous' after drawing only about 10 cards from the losing decks. Even though the subjects were not consciously aware, their bodies developed an accurate sense of fear and anxiety in response to a bad deck well in advance of the rational mind. The subjects' feelings were faster and more accurate, having figured it out way before the conscious mind was tipped off....

This [Iowa Gambling Task] is a challenge and metaphor to improve innovation. We can’t prove the profitability of an intuition or idea because it’s simply not open to conscious explanation. And if we wait for rational proof, we won’t get there in time or at all.

"Metrics and measurements" track results. But as a method for greenlighting new projects numbers alone are woefully ineffective, because, as author and branding consultant Douglas Van Praet points out, in the case of consumer products organizations are striving to formalize a buying process that begins with intuition and can't be predicted. Our bodies know what our minds can't fully grasp. The best that measurement can do is to crown a success. As a marketing exercise Van Praet calls the process "test and kill".

The article is a frank acknowledgement of what many from artists to behavior economists to the clergy already know about decision making. The reasoning process doesn't generate feelings because we have beliefs. Reason generates belief because we have feelings. When it comes to truly innovative outcomes, the best metric is very often a better question.

Stay curious.


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