Carol Jones and Victor Pleshev have a six-figure business, with 400,000 customers in 29 countries. They sell ironing-board covers that fit snugly on the ironing board. They had the idea when Victor’s mother had a stroke, causing right-sided weakness. With her ironing-board cover slipping on the board, she found it impossible to iron. Victor decided to try to design a cover that didn’t slip.
If you’re thinking that almost anyone could have invented a snug ironing-board cover (the company is called Fitz Like a Glove), you are not alone. As Bernadette Jiwa explains in her newest book, Hunch: Turn Your Everyday Insights Into the Next Big Thing, “When it comes to thinking and talking about winning ideas, culturally we have two distinct and opposing narratives: ‘Anyone could have done it’ and, paradoxically, ‘Only they could have done it.’”
In fact, Jiwa argues in her small gem of a book, both sentiments are wrong. What in hindsight might seem like a simple and obvious idea that anyone could have potentially developed required insight that comes from observation and the desire to solve problems. Problems are key: Jiwa differentiates between ideas, which are solutions in search of problems, and opportunities, which are problems begging for a solution. Opportunities, she writes, are the safer bet; Fitz Like a Glove is built on an opportunity.
The belief that “only they could have done it” is equally misguided, Jiwa writes. Quoting the author Charles Leadbeater, Jiwa argues that too many people believe that great ideas are “destined only to be had by ‘special people in special places’ — often at elite institutions and startup incubators facilitated by PhDs, whiteboards, angel investors, or a stash of colored Post-its.”
Seizing the Missed Opportunities
“Every day is filled with those opportunities either seized or missed, ours for the taking if only we can learn to listen for them,” writes Jiwa. Hunch is intended to help readers listen for those opportunities.
The first part of the book, evocatively titled “What’s Stopping You? Hang-ups and Hurdles,” details the limiting mindsets or beliefs that hamper our creativity. These chapters range from “The Myth of the Innovation Epiphany,” in which she notes that “Eureka!” and “A-ha!” moments have actually been informed by years of insights and reflection, to “Ideas Are Overrated,” a chapter that identifies a winning idea as the one “that becomes meaningful in the lives of enough people to sustain its ongoing existence.”
Part two of the book, “From Everyday Insights to Groundbreaking Ideas,” explores the characteristics of successful ideas, such as the importance of practice, which Jiwa illustrates through the inspiring story of a doctor who for years visited the families of babies who had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Over time, Dr. Susan Beal would develop a hunch that sleeping position and the risk of SIDS were correlated. She became an advocate for laying babies on their backs and saved tens of thousands of lives as a result.
The Birth of a Hunch
Part two culminates with a seminal chapter on “The Birth of a Hunch.” As Jiwa explains in this chapter, “The people who have killer hunches are insightful because they intentionally develop three qualities over time; their hunches are born from insights that arise because they are curious, empathetic and imaginative.”
The book’s final section explores curiosity, empathy and imagination in detail, supported by case studies showing how these qualities can lead to the valuable insights from which great ideas and solutions emerge. For example, the ironing-board cover story is from the chapter on curiosity.
At the end of each chapter, Jiwa offers exercises to help readers develop these three qualities. The small size of Hunch — it is a small-format book with mini-chapters that rarely extend past two pages — belies the depth of insight, punctuated by innumerable and often surprising stories, that readers will find in this extraordinary book.