Book Review: Strategic Intuition

We all know how to be logical; at least most of us do.  But logic only takes us so far.  Real progress comes through those who are willing to take old ideas, combine them, and use them to solve an unrelated existing problem.

Breakthroughs do not come from ordinary activity, but from those that are willing to look beyond, and consider new possibilities.  They take what is known from the past, and generalize it to a new situation.

Even in writing the closing, the author writes, “My opportunity to write this book arose from when I saw a gap in the field of strategy at the same time that I saw the existing elements that might combine to fill that gap. In all these chapters, not a single idea, not a single example, is my own.  I borrowed them all.  But the combination is new, and I am grateful for the opportunity to present it here to you.”

The author looked at many different areas of human endeavor, looking for commonalities for when leaps of progress were made.  The areas were science, war, entrepreneurship, the arts, and social work.

It’s not enough to be knowledgeable about the past, and to know the theories of the present.  Can you take them to come up with a solution to a current problem, by using ideas from one area of knowledge, and apply them to an area where they have not been previously applied?

What is ordinary is when you know a goal, and create a plan to achieve that goal.  If you have enough resources, and your plan is adequate you will succeed at an ordinary goal.

What is extraordinary is trying to achieve something that is totally new.  Those that do so achieve it by using what is already known (by some) in a totally new way.

Thus, rather than looking at the goal, consider that the goal might not be achievable, but something close to it might be.  Look at many goals and see whether there isn’t one that has greater impact that you could achieve.   (I wish I could have revised my dissertation topic in mid-stream.)

I have experienced this in my own life.  My biggest successes came through using ideas from other fields and applying them to the insurance industry, which is a very stodgy place.

When you finish with the book, you will have a lot of new ideas for how to creatively attack hard problems.  That’s what makes this book compelling.  But it’s methods are not a panacea; they won’t solve every problem.


The trouble with a book like this is that it picks and chooses.  Much progress does come from the ordinary application of logic.  But many of the jumps of progress do not come from applying ideas from other fields, but by pure accident.  Something anomalous occurs, and no one has a good explanation for it.  At such a point, new theories are proposed and tested.  This is more like ordinary science, and less like what the author proposes.

Also, few of us have the luxury of being able to be flexible about what targets we aim for, or have knowledge of fields far from the target that have some influence on it.

Who would benefit from this book:   If you have to solve a hard problem, and you don’t see a way to solve it, this book may help you do it.  If you want to, you can buy it here: Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement.

Full disclosure: The publisher asked me if I would like the book.  I said yes, and they sent me a copy.

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