Strategic intuition

Napoleon was a great user of it, and his contemporary Von Clausewitz described the essence of it as 'coup d'oiel' in his classic treatise 'On War'. The concept was updated more recently by Prof Bill Duggan as strategic intuition - a framework for understanding how great strategists achieve their goals by combining analysis of past experience with a flash of insight.

by Columbia Ideas@work
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Duggan combined von Clausewitz's concept of coup d’oiel ('glance' in French) with modern science to come up with a four-step method of strategic intuition for identifying and capturing opportunities.

Strategic intuition describes how breakthrough ideas happen in business, politics and art. It works by following four steps:

1. Examples from history were a vital ingredient in the thinking of Napoleon and other military geniuses such as George S. Patton. Both had an encyclopaedic knowledge of military history, and would employ it in battle.

2. Presence of mind means expecting the unexpected, and abandoning preconceived notions of what solutions might be, or even what the problem is. One should keep searching for an opportunity, remaining prepared and aware.

3. A flash of insight is actually a new way of combining old ideas from different sources. For example, Henry Ford first used a stationary assembly line until on a visit to the Chicago stockyards he saw carcasses moving on a rail and got the inspiration for a moving assembly line. The coup d’oeil can sometimes actually change what your goal is, replacing the question 'what is your goal?' with 'what is a good goal?'

4. Resolution means the willingness to move forward without a detailed plan and to be ready to change course if a better opportunity presents itself.

He was then asked by the US army to review its standard planning manual to see if it fitted his concept, and concluded that the manual reflected an outdated view of the working of the mind that saw analysis and intuition taking place in separate parts of the brain. Instead, new brain research shows that analysis and intuition are closely intertwined in all situations.

Source: Strategic Intuition: the key to innovation
Bill Duggan, assistant professor of management at Columbia Business School
Columbia Ideas at Work, June 2006

Review by Joe Gill

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