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(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Right Ideas in All the Wrong Places

For intelligent recombination to happen, you must generate conditions where the mind can relax, deal calmly with problems, wander freely, and make new connections, rather than looking for quick answers because you are stressed or time-constrained. When we ask people where they get their best ideas, we rarely hear “at my desk,” “in a meeting,” or “in a brainstorming session.” More common answers are while running, swimming, commuting, showering, cooking, sewing, or doing yard work. Einstein rhetorically asked, “Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?” He knew instinctively that when your brain relaxes, it’s able to utilize its natural approach to innovating. Sometimes you should even drop the problem completely. This is why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—a deeply inventive man who understood the creative process—frequently had Sherlock Holmes drag Watson off to a concert right in the middle of a case.

Capable strategists must embrace and enhance their strategic intuition to generate groundbreaking ideas that successfully address the toughest challenges where their companies most need to innovate. But it’s not easy. The challenges themselves can be difficult to frame in the right way and break down into the right components. The process often involves messy, frustrating iteration. And creating the presence of mind and circumstances to activate your unconscious self is no easy discipline. Thomas Edison’s famous line that “invention is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration” is often interpreted as meaning the hard part comes after the easy part. A better interpretation is that a lot of perspiration must go into generating the inspiration that produces a truly breakthrough—and practical—invention.

Author Profiles:

  • Ken Favaro is a senior partner with Booz & Company based in New York and global head of the firm’s enterprise strategy practice.
  • Nadim Yacteen is a senior executive advisor based in New York who leads Booz & Company’s strategic intuition practice.


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