🎙Cultivating the Creative Seventh Sense with William Duggan
"You don't have to have the passion before you have the idea. The idea gives you the passion. Oh great, this is what I'm gonna do."
Good morning everyone,
I had a chance to interview William Duggan, who teaches innovation at Columbia Business School and wrote Strategic Intuition. Much of the time we follow a process and execute on a plan, but every so often our success rests on having a strong creative insight — a novel idea or a variant perception of a massive misunderstood opportunity (in Edison’s words, ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration’). A few of these insights can determine the arc of our career.
Since my post on Duggan’s Strategic Intuition, I’ve read his most recent book, The Seventh Sense, in which he applied the framework to everyday issues including finding the right career and creative networking. Duggan uses the terms ‘sixth’ and ‘seventh’ sense to distinguish between expert and creative intuition:
Professional athletes use their sixth sense during the game. Afterward, to prepare for the next game, they use their seventh sense: they study videos of their past games and games that others played against their next opponent, looking for ideas from both.
In the sixth sense you think fast, so all you have time to draw from is your own experience. In the seventh sense you think slow, so you have time to step back from your own experience and see your own examples from history as just one of many sources to draw from. — The Seventh Sense
Take Steve Jobs, a master of the seventh sense and serial combinatorial innovator:
He combined two examples from history to make his breakthrough Macintosh computer: the small, cheap, easy-to-use Apple II that his partner, Steve Wozniak, built, plus the graphical user interface and mouse that he saw on a big, expensive Xerox machine. Right afterward, he left Apple and spent ten years trying to build a perfect computer from scratch, which failed terribly.
He returned to Apple and went back to combining examples from history, and that’s when everything took off: under Jobs, Apple became the world’s most successful company by creative combination of breakthroughs that others made. — The Seventh Sense
In our conversation, Duggan explained how he found his big idea, the difference between creative/strategic intuition and expert intuition (with examples including Howard Schultz, Henry Ford, and Elizabeth Holmes), the role of memory, the influence of martial arts, meditation, passion, and the role of memory.
A few ideas that stuck with me:
Passion follows a great idea. If you’re not yet feeling passionate about a new idea, say a business venture, the idea might not be strong enough. Elizabeth Holmes, Duggan pointed out, was passionate about the problem (minimum quantity blood tests) but she lacked a great idea. The technology required for her product didn’t exist yet. She tried to will it into existence out of passion. Duggan argues it should be the other way around: a great idea, based on elements that already work, ignites passion.
The best test of whether it's worthwhile to work on something is whether you find it interesting. That may sound like a dangerously subjective measure, but it's probably the most accurate one you're going to get. — Paul Graham
Change your brainstorming process by spacing it out. Pose the question to the group, then allow for a period of collecting dots before looking for the answer.
If I ask you to brainstorm—that is, to toss out ideas from the top of your head, right now—that’s shallow creativity. Tossing out ideas in a room is a quick and efficient way to gather the sixth sense of everyone there. But for the most creative answers, use your seventh sense, not your sixth. That is, look outside the personal experience of whoever is in the room. By definition, brainstorming can’t do that.
In reverse brainstorming you don’t decide right away. If you can bring an idea on any topic at all, the rest of the group might not have thought about that topic before.
Develop practices to clear your mind. Duggan pointed out three key obstacles: too much focus, multitasking (“in reality you cannot do many things at once … it’s rapid sequential focus”), and negative emotion.
Insight happens in a relaxed brain — otherwise known as presence of mind.
I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Quotes that stuck with me:
There is no now. Everything is history. … There is no other guide to the future.
You don't have to have the passion before you have the idea. The idea gives you the passion. Oh great, this is what I'm gonna do.
How do you judge an idea when you have it? Is it based on real knowledge and experience? Real pieces of the puzzle. That's how you judge.
The moment you step into the battle, you forget everything. Meaning that you let your brain make the correct connections. That's the presence of mind, where your mind is clear. In martial arts, it's very fast, but it's really the same idea. It's to clear your mind and let your brain make its own connections, according to the situation and the circumstances.
A lot of people think Henry Ford invented the assembly line. He did not. The assembly line was invented a hundred years before, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. He invented a certain kind of assembly line, meaning he put together the old assembly line with something new.
I like to distinguish the natural flash of insight … Steve Jobs was good at it. He'd search and search and search and then something would strike him. I don't know if you know about the origin of Starbucks. Howard Schultz was working for a coffee company, high quality coffee, where you fill up your bag and take the coffee beans home. He goes to Milan for the first time in his life and he sees the coffee bar and he says, oh, okay, well we should clearly convert all our stores into that.