How Powerful is Your Hunch?

Great Work

Guest Blog by David Sturt, Author of Great Work

Call it a “gut feeling.” Call it a “nagging question.” Call it a “committed curiosity.” Or maybe you like to call it “instinct.” Whatever you want to call that internal voice that leads us to follow a path, I like to call it a hunch. And I’d like to think that these hunches are where the real magic happens—in creativity, in innovation, in strategy, and the creation of great work.

Of course, as professionals, business leaders, and managers, we all like to assume that these innate powers of curiosity can be chalked up as business savvy.  But it’s hard to take credit for such a power when we consider the fact that baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs and instinctually head towards the brightest horizon—the ocean. It’s a dangerous instinct. If they don’t move fast enough, they could get baked by the sun and die of hydration. That is, of course, if they don’t first become lunch for a hungry bird.

Where do these instincts come from? And do we have them?

A group of O.C. Tanner Institute members and partners, including researchers, business leaders, writers, designers, and academics, were working hard when they felt a “hunch.” Of course, many books have come out of this company. Numerous white papers have been written, and curriculum that originated within these walls has been taught all around the world. Still there was a few nagging questions.

As a company who does research, we know what great managers look like and what they do. We know what great teams look like and what they do. But what does great work look like? Where does it come from? Why are some people so good at accomplishing it? Pondering these questions, we realized that we were sitting on one of the world’s largest databases of award-winning work. This got us thinking: Might these records tell us something about people who win awards for great work?

With this question in mind—and a hunch that our data would give us some insight—we found ourselves overwhelmed with curiosity. What are people doing when great work is achieved? They’ve got to be doing something different than just the good workers, right? Or would we find ourselves wrong?

We enlisted two academics with PhDs from Harvard and Cambridge to help us design a research methodology for our largest-ever study of award-winning work. We interviewed experts, reviewed third-party research and literature, and conducted a survey of executives. We began culling through our study with more than five million written accounts of great work. These came in the form of electronic nominations, written by supervisors or colleagues to recommend someone for a corporate award. We then isolated 1.7 million nomination records where an actual award was received. Then came the real task: to read and analyze a random sample of 10,000 of these accounts of award-winning work and code the contents into specific categories of attitudes, skills, and behaviors.

It was a massive undertaking, based on a simple hunch. Still, we believed it was our brightest horizon—our ocean.

As we studied the data, a number of similarities began to emerge with clockwork consistency. In fact, we were shocked at the data that continued to bubble up everywhere—overwhelmingly, the factors that appeared to have an impact on great work were actionable skills that anyone could perform. Instincts? No. Personality traits? No. Actions that created great work and could be learned by anyone? Yes!

What? This was a breakthrough in organizational thought—all those books, and theories, and deep philosophical discussions about finding the right people, and personalities, and backgrounds may have overlooked the most significant piece of the puzzle—that if people apply themselves toward 5 simple skills, the likelihood of great work is bound to happen. In fact, easier stated, great work can be trained.

There is, of course, a caveat to our findings—all covered in great detail in our new book aptly titled Great Work. It was a starting point for all the great workers. It was a qualification that was necessary in order for all 5 actions to actually work. And it was so obvious from our data, and from our personal interviews of 200 recipients of Great Work awards, that’s actually embarrassing that we had to go look for it. What is it? It’s a little thing call intention. In every single piece of data, and in every interview, and in every cross-sectional study we conducted on people who made a difference in the world, the intention was always the same: The intention of all those who created great work was “to make a difference people love.”

A hunch. That’s all this was. Today, thanks to all who said, “I think you guys are onto something,” it’s proof the game has changed. And those who will make it to the ocean, simply needed to apply 5 simple steps.

Want to find out more? You can find out more and order your copy of Great Work here:


 About the David Sturt

David Sturt is an Executive Vice President of the O.C. Tanner Company. His career began in market research, where he studied and analyzed the effects of people being recognized for great work. In the two decades since, he has researched and developed several multi-million dollar services that engage employees, inspire above and beyond contribution, and reward outstanding results in organizations around the world. He regularly consults with Fortune 1,000 company leaders and speaks at conferences across the U.S., Canada, and the UK. He has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Human Capital, and other media outlets.

About the Author:

Randy Pennington

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit or call 972-980-9857.