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Long-term declines in many industries have forced companies to make fundamental changes in how they understand, anticipate, and partner with their customers. However, many companies are mistaking frenzy for change and "more of the same" for innovation, as is evidenced by continual churn, reorgs, and the continued failure rate of new products.

Moreover, the "sharing economy," with its upstart business models like those pioneered by Uber and AirBnB, is only increasing the frenzy. But a frenzied organization isn't a nimble one.

What companies really need to survive and prosper in this increasingly dynamic, interdependent business environment is agility. But fast, effective, incremental action in response to changing conditions is only possible when enabled by intuition, a well-developed "gut feeling" about what will anger, delight, and motivate the people a business is trying to serve.

Defining Intuition

Psychologist Gary Klein defines intuition as "a pattern-matching process, a means by which we use previous experiences to categorize and interpret unfolding events."

Think about shopping for your child or spouse, recommending a movie, or listening to your lightning-fast internal dialogue as you decide what (or what not) to say.

In all those cases, you know what your loved one is going to value or hate, or welcome or dismiss. You don't need a study or quantitative evidence. You trust your gut, based on long, intimate interpersonal experience.

Now think about how the market-research or consumer-insights function within businesses has typically been tasked with helping companies understand their customers. You can see how traditional research methods can pit the means against the end.

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image of Julie Wittes Schlack

Julie Wittes Schlack is a founding member and the SVP of innovation and design of online-community-based consultancy C Space. A recipient of the Hopwood Award for fiction, she has been widely published in obscure literary journals. She reviews books for the Boston Globe.

LinkedIn: Julie Schlack

Twitter: @jwschlack