Part 2 of a 2-part exploration on insights
If, in the first of this two-part post, you thought I was trying to shirk the hard work of defining my discipline by obscuring it in a murky veil called “intuition,” then let me share my guide for discovering insights with you now.
Like many scientific models, my model charts a path to discovery and identifies the necessary steps to get there. But I’ve also added scale and shape to the path to help you visualize how ideas and information flow—expanding outwards as ideas are explored, coming together through review, and then getting smaller as the ideation is refined. It’s organic, and will only be as linear as your expedition allows. Sometimes you’ll get there easily, sometimes you’ll get sent back a few steps.
There are no guarantees in the pursuit of insights.
Methodologies for developing insights can be incredibly valuable, but I hesitate when they’re used as a set of instructions rather than as a compass. My model is merely a framework. The way you get to each step (or amount of times you may need to repeat one) will vary depending on the type of challenge you face and what you bring to the effort. It’s important to point out here that creative thinking is essential for the entire journey, not just at the end where the insight is articulated. The proprietary tools or techniques we use matter but what I’ve focused on is giving shape to the journey.
Get comfortable with the unknown.
The reason I so dislike the instructional nature of many creative thinking processes is that they provide a false sense of security. Insights require brave thinking—hypothesizing, suspending doubt, asking “what if?,” and giving yourself permission to take a few steps back if the trail ends or reroute when new information comes to light. For this journey, there are no short cuts, nor will assumptions get you very far. So, if our brains are like muscles, you’ll want to be sure yours is up to the challenge.
You’ll know your destination when you get there.
The a-ha moment may appear in a flash, but more often it isn’t a moment at all and instead slowly comes into focus as you move through the process, like waking from a slumber. When do you know you’ve got an insight? The intuitive leap I speak of can’t be determined with an equation but you’ll recognize an insight by its ability to provide a new perspective on your problem, sometimes even redefining the problem itself, and point the way to a solution. Or, as my colleague Michael Briggs, Head of Insight & Strategy, puts it, “If your insight isn’t the red pill that forever changes how you view the world, and if that new worldview doesn’t illuminate a clear path forward, then it probably isn’t an insight.”
Enjoy your trip.
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