New year for gut feeling

Good ideas can fail to get off the ground because they lack hard evidence to back them up, writes Phil Preston, but your business can benefit from challenging that in 2012.

A lot of initiatives never get off the ground because we lack the cold, hard evidence that they will produce results. Well, I like to challenge that way of thinking because the fact that we can’t quantify something is often flagging that there is an opportunity waiting for us.

This is the second in a series that I’m running over the festive season to help get your 2012 action plans off to a flying start (see A cure for 'siloitis', December 12).

When the issue of climate change became ‘mainstream’ in and around 2006, it left our investment management firm pondering what it meant for the assets that we managed. I was one of a handful of enthusiasts who were lobbying to improve our understanding of its potential effects.

We encountered pushback from other colleagues who wanted to know exactly what it would ‘cost’ them if they did not act. Whilst there was an element of prudence in thinking this way, the fact that we couldn’t easily quantify the ‘cost’ was the major reason that we should have started responding, not a reason in itself to do nothing.

Does this mean that every intuitive idea we have is a good one? Not necessarily. However, if it is consistent with major market or societal trends, there is a good chance it has merit and it can be used as the basis for forming a major goal, before you then figure out how you accomplish it.

Earlier in the year I published a feature about Interface, a US carpet and floor tile manufacturer, owing to the fact that its visionary leader and founder, Ray Anderson, passed away in August 2011. In 1994, Ray saw that resource limitations would eventually catch up with us and that he would build competitive advantage by transitioning to a zero waste business.

At face value this goal was insane because of the energy intensity of the manufacturing process. Ray said himself that if he’d sat down and thought about how he would do it, he never would have started. He eventually achieved his goal and, in the process, built a company that outlasted and outperformed its rivals.

As the process unfolds then, sure, put in place measurable indicators, but don’t let this stymie the initiative before it even gets off the ground.

So here’s an exercise for you:

- In your industry, name the ‘elephant’ in the room

- Ask yourself, is it really an elephant, or are you lacking the courage and conviction to take it on?

- Identify the benefits that would flow if you could overcome this obstacle ahead of the pack

- Engage a wider group of co-workers in the goal and its benefits and start brainstorming ways to make it happen.

As a species, we are a creative bunch who thrives on challenges. Use you intuition to drive your own innovation efforts and become a game-changer in your industry.

Phil Preston is a social innovation expert who provides strategic insight into the rapidly changing business and social environment. He can be contacted on phil@philpreston.co