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The H-Factor: Innovating by Following your Hunch


Someone once said that good things happen over time, but truly great things happen all at once (I think it was from some movie). Anyway, the point is that sometimes, in the mind of an innovator or creator of any kind – an artist, sculptor, poet, software engineer or whatever other creative work you can think of – a spark goes off, something inexplicable, a magic moment of sorts, a period of such amazing insight. In fact more often than not it is not totally clear to the creator what it is. It may not even make sense at the time. You just have this itching drive, as if destiny is calling. We don’t have a clear definition of what this thing is so we call it… a ‘hunch’, a ‘gut feeling’ or sometimes ‘intuition’. In an awesome TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert tries ponders this mystery:


Some of the most amazing inventions and innovations have been the result, not of in depth research and analytical market studies to find out what the customers need and whether the product fits the market, but simply of this almost mysterious thing we call a ‘hunch’ I believe that probably one of the biggest undoings of major corporations is to ignore the ‘H-factor’, the ‘hunch factor’. The problem with running a business, and this is typical (i think) of even the brightest startups once they become major corporations is exactly that – running the business! What I mean is all of a sudden you are caught up in balancing balance sheets and worrying about so many other things, trying to quantify everything, trying to justify everything – and I’m not saying this is a BAD THING. But it becomes an impediment when it becomes the primary focus, overshadowing the very thing that began the enterprise (remember those startup days, when you just went with what just, plain and simple ‘made sense‘ to do? Just read this article by Joe Wilcox, about how this very thing could have been a crippling factor for one of the largest corporations globally in the last decade, Microsoft. (Someone said if you’re a startup, hire MBAs last, fire MBAs first – No pun intended to all MBAs) On the contrary, the H-factor has propelled to amazing success, such seemingly trivial ideas as ‘letting people know what you are doing in 140 letters or less’ (also known as Twitter). Watch Twitter, co-founder Evan Williams explaining this:

The moral of this whole story is simple – Don’t ignore the H-factor; not everything is measurable. (In fact trying ‘formal’ approaches to some ideas destroys the idea itself – imagine if the first thing the Twitter founders did was to commission a market research on ‘whether people would want to tell others what they are doing in 140 characters or less’!)

This is why I like simple ideas, ideas that make sense without having to scratch your head for 5 minutes about it. In fact, if you can pitch your idea in a sentence (like this guys pitched his startup idea to Guy Kawasaki on an elevator) and get the whole idea out there in principle and have someone understand it and how it would possibly work (in principle); you’ve got a winner. I’ve had the opportunity to judge at several business plan competitions or to judge at some student project presentations and almost always, I could tell whether it was a brilliant idea or not within the first one minute of the presentation.

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