Licensed to Instinct

Over the course of the year, we'll continue to share the virtues we feel are necessary to think small -- for brands to be nimble, precise and action-oriented. While all twelve virtues are important, the virtue this month is a bit closer to our hearts. Instinct is at the core of what we do, as it is with other companies like ours, even though they might not acknowledge or admit it. Sadly, our industry tends to paint instinct as a poor substitute for cold, hard research. We think the two are equals. So much so, that we named our company based on this belief. Some of you may not know that our official name is actually 141 words long. It's an entire paragraph. More specifically, it's a parable. It reveals our conviction about valuing instinct and intuition in the process of making... well, anything.

Although you hear us using the word "Paragraph" when referring to ourselves, "Paragraph" is really just shorthand for this:

I was having a conversation with a CEO and I asked him if he would ever let research override his intuition. He said he would. I asked him if he believed in genius -- or if he believed in love. I asked him to describe his daughter’s smile or the way he felt on September 11th. I asked if he could comprehend how Beethoven could have composed his ninth symphony even though he was profoundly deaf at the time. He looked at me blankly. He told me that life wasn’t just artistry and poetry. He said that business required more than belief. He said that selling to people had become a science. “That all sounds rather tedious,” I said. “It’s business,” he replied. “It’s making money. It’s commerce.” I asked him if he found value in promoting things he didn’t believe in.

There isn't a project we touch that doesn't involve us conducting some sort of research so we understand how blasphemous this may all sound. But the way we see it, instincts are just another input into our process.

Instinct is actually a pretty sophisticated form of pattern recognition that can lead to faster and more accurate decisions.

Fans at football games who scream in unison to convince a coach to go for it on fourth down rather than kicking a field goal are actually exercising good instincts. Their years of watching football have helped them recognize patterns and understand when the odds might be in favor of going for the first down. A recent study by an economist at Berkeley actually revealed that teams improve their chances of winning if they acted in accord to these chants more often, despite a coaches desire to play things more conservatively.

We're all for doing killer research. And it's extremely invaluable to our process and our clients' success. But it's irresponsible to dismiss the important roll that instincts can play.

If you want to incorporate instinct into your process in a more deliberate and considered way, here are a few tips.

1. Instincts can be most valuable at the beginning of the process. It helps you get out of the starting blocks quickly. The key is to write down some initial hypotheses about the problem you're trying to solve and thoughts on potential solutions. Use this as your North Star. As you start to bury yourself with research, these initial hypotheses can keep you focused and on track.

2. It is possible to hone your instincts. To do this, conduct a postmortem after each project. Which instincts were most constructive during the process? Which instincts were flat out wrong? Remember, there are different types of instincts. Check out our infographic and see where your instincts are strongest so you know which ones can be your best allies.

3. Don't fall in love with your instincts. The only way to make instincts and intuition a valuable part of your process is to be completely comfortable divorcing yourself from them. If you are too emotionally attached, your instincts will quickly turn into biases and will close you off to discovering new things.

Marketers (and creative folks in general) are at their best when they are informed and inspired by their instincts without become slaves to them.