Strategic Intuition: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: March 22nd, 2011 by bobmorris

Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement
William Duggan
Columbia University Press (2007)

How and why “a modern discipline” can activate “flashes of insight” in a results-driven organization

There is much to be said for eliminating waste throughout an enterprise without transforming it completely, at all levels and in all areas. In this volume, however, William Duggan introduces what he characterizes as a “modern discipline” that holds out the promise to decision-makers of allowing them the organizational equivalent of “having their cake and eating it too.” Easier said than done? Of course. But indeed possible.

The key, Duggan suggests, is to establish and then nourish an environment within which there are continuous flashes of insight: “Suddenly it hits you. It all comes together in your mind. You connect the dots. It can be one big ‘Aha!’ or a series of smaller ones that together show you the way ahead. The fog clears and you see what to do. It seems so obvious. A moment before you had no idea. Now you do.” This in essence is strategic intuition.

Years ago, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I don’t care a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” With extraordinary skill and uncommon eloquence, Duggan offers in this book what strikes me as being intuition on the other side of complexity. He draws upon a wealth of recent research in neuroscience that explains how and why these enlightened (no pun intended) flashes of insights occur. Duggan doesn’t stop there. He adds that by pulling together various sources (e.g. Asian philosophy, classical military strategy, business strategy, the history of science, and the more recent field of cognitive psychology), “we are able to arrive at a modern discipline that puts flashes of insight at the center of a philosophy of action across all fields of human endeavor.”

Its name is strategic intuition. “It is very different from ordinary intuition, like vague hunches or gut instinct. Ordinary intuition is a form of emotion: feeling, not thinking. Strategic intuition is the opposite: It’s thinking, not feeling. A flash of insight cuts through the fog of your mind with a clear, shining thought. You might feel elated right after, but the thought itself is sharp in your mind. That’s why it excites you: at last you see clearly what to do.” Strategic intuition is also different from snap judgments (i.e. expert intuition such as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Blink), hence the importance of developing the discipline needed to recognize when a given situation is new. In that event, “disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.” It is this term, “discipline,” that differentiates it from all other forms of intuition.

Readers will appreciate Duggan’s brilliant explanation of how and why “a modern discipline,” strategic intuition, can activate “flashes of insight” in a results-driven organization across various professions. I was especially interested in his discussion of intelligent memory (Pages 34-35 and 58-60), the differences between Carl Von Clauswitz’s concept of strategic intuition and Baron Antoine Jomini’s concept of strategic planning (Pages 60-64), the characteristics of two forms of reasoning, associative system and rule-based system (See Table 4.1 on Page 48), the “what-works matrix” (Pages 133, 135-140, and 157), reverse brainstorming (Pages 150-151 and 157), and use of Robin Hogarth’s professional scripts, as opposed to case studies, when teaching students how strategic intuition works (Page 168-170.

Although this is by no means an “easy read,” it is to William Duggan’s great credit that he organizes and presents his material with uncommon clarity and eloquence. When concluding his book, he observes,  “Progress in human affairs comes through opportunity, when someone sees it, seizes it, and turns it into reality.” Strategic intuition thus consists of three separate but related components: recognition, initiative, and achievement. They await those who are both willing and able to complete a journey to As to “the other side of complexity” to which I referred earlier. Only there will creative sparks guide and inform breakthrough achievements with high-impact.

Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Dean Spitzer’s Transforming Performance Measurement and Enterprise Architecture as Strategy co-authored by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson.


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