Where do big ideas come from?

COMMENTARY I don't know about you, but when I'm watching a football game where the kicker is about to attempt a field goal to win the game, my hands grip the chair, I hold my breath, and I wonder what's going through the guy's mind.

When Michigan's Brendan Gibbons nailed a 37-yard field goal to win theSugar Bowl in overtime, guess what was going through his mind? Brunette girls. No kidding, that's what inspires the guy. And it works.

We can't all be great athletes, so some of us have to "win the big game," so to speak, with our intuition, our ideas. Which brings us to a subject of much confusion and debate in the business world. What inspires "big idea" people? Asked another way, where do big ideas come from?

Actually, many so-called "left brain" or analytical people I've known over the years, including an awful lot of managers and executives, think the whole concept of some people being more intuitive or inspirational than others is pure mythology. Well, maybe it is and maybe it's not. But scientists say that intuition can be a powerful factor in human decision-making and idea creation. For what it's worth, I agree.

Following your Intuition can be as simple as listening to a little voice in your head, trusting a feeling or sense of warning, or following your own internal "focus group of one," against the "better judgment" of many.

Where does it come from? Good question. It's probably a vestige of an evolutionary survival mechanism. An "intuitive" caveman sensing danger, for example, would hide in his cave and avoid being eaten by some blood-crazed saber-toothed tiger. Since he survived, he'd pass that instinct on. At least that's the theory.

In any case, human intuition has probably been on the decline for some time, owing to an increasing dependence on our overdeveloped neocortex, logical reason, and technology, and not to mention a significant decline in people living in caves with bloodthirsty predators around.

Don't even get me started on our newly found addiction to gadgets, social media, and instantaneous communication. You can't sense or intuit anything when you're distracted. Personally, I think that's sad, considering there's at least anecdotal evidence that intuition plays a significant role in scientific, technological, and business innovation.

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For example, against all logic, Albert Einstein was obsessed with light. That passion for light and his famous thought experiments where he pondered what he would see if he rode on a beam of light led to the special theory of relativity and E=MC2, one of the greatest discoveries in the history of physics.

In his book "Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft," Paul Allensays he came up with the big idea that made Microsoft more money than just about any business in history: Charging per-copy royalties for the IBM PC operating system instead of a flat license fee.

And what possessed entrepreneur Mark Cuban to sell Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.9 billion in stock and then immediately hedge that stock against a market crash at the very peak of the dot-com bubble? All the so-called experts rode the market down and lost trillions in investment capital.

Now, I'm no Einstein, but I have worked together with a large number of innovative entrepreneurs, engineers, and executives over the decades. In my experience, There are five relatively common factors that inspire intuitive people and ultimately lead to big ideas:

Concentration and focus. Freedom from distraction. Now, that can mean music, white noise, cheering crowds, or even thoughts of brunette girls. People concentrate and focus in different ways. Whatever works.

The team. There's something about putting a group of exceptional people in a room together that inspires them to do great things. How that works is described in "Organizing Genius," an inspiring book by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.

Brainstorming. Ideation, bouncing ideas around, call it what you want -- it works for lots of people. Personally, I do better alone with a glass of wine or lots of caffeine, but that's just me.

Success. There's undoubtedly a certain momentum or positive feedback loop that comes from success or accomplishing something that makes you feel really good, bigger than life, capable of doing great things. It can be self-fulfilling.

Doing what you love to do. Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle." Amen to that.

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