As an architect, part of what I regularly do is go around seeing what is not there.
Another way of putting that is, because we are trained to visualize, and anticipate the consequences for any course of action, we tend to “see” what others don’t see.
That’s also another way one might describe what it means to gain insights.
Garnering insights is a three-part challenge:
1. How to create an environment within which insights are most likely to occur?
2. How to recognize and then grasp them?
3. How to nourish their development and, if necessary, defend them while in that process?
These are among the questions to which research psychologist Gary Klein responds with a series of brilliant insights in his latest book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.
Klein defines insights as “an unexpected shift in the way we understand things. It comes without warning. It’s not something that we think is going to happen and that’s why it’s unexpected. It feels like a gift and in fact it is.”
In his book, Klein diagrams two ways to increase individual and organizational performance:
- by gaining insight
- by reducing errors
While both are needed, reducing errors alone will only get you so far.
Much more can be gained by learning how to increase insight.
This is where Klein’s book can help. The book is organized into three sections:
- How insights are triggered
- Things that interfere with insights, and
- How we can foster insight in ourselves, others and organizations.
120 Cases of Insights
Klein’s book provides an effective look at how we go about arriving at insights.
Probably the biggest revelation for me is where Klein notes that the traditional view of how insights are gained – via preparation, incubation, illumination and verification – is inaccurate.
In other words, the familiar four steps of the creative process:
- preparation—investigating the problem
- incubation—thinking about the problem
- illumination—coming up with an insight, and
- verification—demonstrating that the insight is correct.
Klein then collects 120 cases and studies how they lead to insights.
Throughout the book Klein focuses on these 120 cases that demonstrate one or more of his five strategies:
- Connections: similarities, causal relationships, and interdependence; putting together different ideas so as to form a connection
- Coincidences: clues to possible patterns of evidence and verification; random events
- Curiosities: inexplicable phenomena that require closer attention; unusual events that attract our attention
- Contradictions: absurdities that reveal insights; events that go against our previous thinking
- Creative Desperation: unexpectedly resolving a problem that seems unsolvable; doing something when we are trapped and can find no clear answer.
The remainder of the book is devoted what interferes with insights, including stupidity, design, and organizational factors.
I highly recommend Gary Klein’s book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.