Innovation Blog

Innovator: Think With Your Gut!

Why Sherlock Holmes Failed to Solve the Greatest Mystery of All

By Shlomo Maital



 Sherlock Holmes: all head, no heart!


Here is how Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, describes his hero in “A scandal in Bohemia”:

 “All emotions…were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen…he never spoke of softer passions…admirable things for the observer, but for the trained reason to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results…grit in a sensitive instrument”.

I’m pretty sure most of us agree, believing that emotions cloud decision-making.  Good thinking, we believe, is left brain (logic), messed up by right brain feelings and passion.

   Fortunately, New York Times columnist David Brooks has written a brilliant new book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement (Random House, 2010), which cleverly reviews neuro-science research through two fictional characters’ lives, and which shows that emotion, and our inner voices, actually strengthen reasoning, rather than weaken it.  Much of this research is based on FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which maps the areas of the brain that control reason and emotion. 

   Here is a great passage from the book: “The unconscious mind is like a million little scouts [that] careen across the landscape, sending back a constant flow of signals…they maintain no distance from the environment around them but are immersed in it.  These scouts coat things with emotional significance. …they guide us like a spiritual GPS, as we chart our courses.”

    I believe Brooks’ book powerfully shows that great innovators must harness, and carefully listen to, their intuition and their deepest passion.  It is why I always counsel my students to look deep into themselves and find what they truly care about – and why I believe there is no such thing as ‘left’ brain and ‘right’ brain, but simply brain, a whole brain, linking emotion tightly with reasoning.

   Sherlock – get with it, man!  You may be the world’s greatest detective.  But if Conan Doyle had let you use your gut, as well as your deductive powers, well, maybe you could have done more than just solve murders.  Maybe you could have figured out what the true source of creativity is!

    Here, by the way, is David Brooks’ tip, a practical way to improve your decision-making. Suppose you are torn between two choices.  Say, Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey ice cream.  Can’t decide?  So, flip a coin. Heads, Cherry, tails, Monkey.  Now, after you flip the coin, ask yourself, how do I feel about this?  If you feel sorry, pick what you wanted in the first place. If you feel happy, well, the coin toss validated your choice.