The Thinking – Feeling Organization: A New Paradigm for Strategic Opportunities

Gather any group of innovators and ask what one of the hardest parts of their job is, and they are likely to tell you it is convincing the rest of the organization that the innovation opportunity is a good idea to pursue. How many times have we heard decision makers say, “This is just not us,” after we’ve presented an innovative new opportunity? It’s an emotional response that trumps reason, logic and analysis. There is too much uncertainty and the new idea makes the decision makers uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit with their model of what the company should do and despite evidence supporting a decision to proceed, they respond in the only way that feels right to them.

New offerings, especially big, strategic ones,[1] and their related new business models require the organization to change in meaningful ways. Strategic innovations create organizational discomfort because they are different, even radical or disruptive – not just for the ultimate customer but also for the company creating them. The discomfort can be manifest in many ways, none of which are especially helpful to good decision-making.

Executives and managers, the internal adopters, not only must think a decision is correct based on a reasoned analysis of facts and evidence; they also must feel the decision is correct, otherwise they won’t support the opportunity. Most organizations are ill prepared to understand and manage the strong emotional reactions that strategic innovations generate. But it is critical to manage these reactions in a systematic way and channel them in productive ways, while simultaneously using both reasoning and thinking lenses. Without this, organizations reject the opportunities that should be pursued, and what is left are “innovations” that are merely incremental and sustaining.

But how does an organization let both reason and emotion interact in productive ways? We need a new paradigm, one that integrates the thoughts and feelings of internal and external adopters. We need a new paradigm that does not leave emotion to chance. The paradigm must include several key thinking and feeling categories and functions. These apply internally, externally and, most importantly, at the boundary between them (see figure below). Many tools and techniques exist to address the rationality and irrationality of future customers (e.g., voice of the customer, ethnography, personas), but companies are less versed in how to address the rational and emotional aspects internally. In other words, the emotional or feeling aspects of an innovative new opportunity tend to be the most problematic.

By Larry Schmitt

A detailed white paper on this topic can be read here

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