A recent paper, The Thinking-Feeling Organization, describes the role that emotion plays in decisions regarding significant, strategic innovations. It explores how these emotional responses are often unacknowledged and nearly always unmanaged and it proposes a new paradigm that includes both thinking and feeling mechanisms in the innovation process.

Of special interest is how the aspect of feeling, the emotional responses of individuals and organizations to innovation, is a major contributor to the success or failure of an innovation. What is it about emotion that affects innovation? Why is it important for organizations to pay attention to the dynamics of emotional feelings in addition to the ‘certainty’ of logical thinking?

The short answer is that the effects of not acknowledging and managing the feeling aspects of innovation are significant.  When innovations are strategic and transformational, they are uncomfortable for an organization. These are the innovations that elicit the strongest emotions from the very individuals who will determine their success. When unacknowledged and unmanaged feelings dominate their decisions and actions, the probability of success goes down. But here is the contention, when these feelings are acknowledged and productively managed, then feelings can play an important role in the success of the innovation and they can even make the innovation better.

With the rise of new technologies such as big-data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), there is a tendency to believe that we can move to a world where the feeling side of an organization can be bypassed. There are developments afoot that seem to suggest that organizations can reduce the human condition in their analysis of what they should create. Big data can predict our behavior and tell us what will and won’t work. AI will remove the cognitive biases and emotions from decision making. Such a view suggests that rationality will prevail and that it alone will be the driver of new innovations as more and more data and information becomes available.

The countervailing perspective is that, as long as humans are the primary creators and adopters of innovations, emotion and feeling will be an important component of an organization’s behavior and, moreover, emotion and feeling, used in the right ways, can create more compelling innovations.

A Thinking and Feeling Organization is able to balance the divergent perspectives that emerge from data and empathy. Such an organization recognizes the benefits of new technology like big data and artificial intelligent analysis but also recognizes the value of emotional intelligence and empathy, not just in their customers but in their own organization as well. They use both to create innovations that are better than those that would result if the feeling side was eliminated.

The question then becomes how to organize, direct and manage the feeling side of an organization to good effect? This is what the paper starts to describe. There is still a long way to go and a lot of research and development that needs to take place to get the right processes, methods and tools in place. The effort has just begun.

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