You might be on event, in the shower, or daydreaming at your desk when suddenly inspiration hits. Sudden insights like this have sparked leaders, artists and scientists throughout history. But where do these great ideas originate? Researchers in neuroscience and cognitive psychology are finally studying these insights to explain “Aha!” moments in terms of different types of intuition, which I’m currently reading about in William Duggan’s book Strategic Intuition.

Duggan’s book categories intuition into three types:

  1. “Ordinary intuition” – Your feelings, “gut instincts” and vague hunches shape your choices.
  2. “Expert intuition” – You make “snap judgments” about a field you know well. This kind of mental leap, which Malcolm Gladwell discusses in Blink, comes from studying similar problems until you process solutions faster than conscious thought.
  3. Strategic intuition – Using “thinking, not feeling,” over time, you link disparate elements to produce a new idea. “A flash of insight cuts through the fog of your mind with a clear, shining thought…at last you see clearly what to do.”

Duggan argues that most strategies and plans are too linear, simplistic and goal-oriented. He writes that you can’t fix on a specific goal and innovate your way toward it, because just establishing a goal shuts strategic innovation down.  He recommends cultivating insight by studying the present and past in detail, and then setting goals–and sometimes redefining goals in the process.

Duggan points to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page who did not set out to create a search engine that redefined the online world. They started Google by being observant and willing to change course when they had an insight.

In the highly competitive world of event fundraising, it’s easy to set goals in isolation and then work towards them. But a sound event fundraising strategy is not a plan for reaching an arbitrary goal. The term “event fundraising strategy” should mean a cohesive response to an important challenge. Unlike a stand-alone decision or a goal, a strategy is a coherent set of analyses, concepts, arguments, and actions that respond to a high-stakes challenge–like curing cancer, AIDS, MS, or diabetes.

The new year presents an opportunity to focus your limited supply of energy and resources on a few key “strategic” objectives whose accomplishment will make a real difference for your nonprofit. Where will you start?

Event 360’s consulting team offers unique insights that help event fundraisers and marketers leverage strategic planning that drives growth in all economic climates. Send me an email at fundraising [at] event360 [dot] com to learn more.

Jono Smith is vice president of marketing at Event 360. You can find Jono on Google+Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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