Want Great Performance?
Have More Creative Insights

Creative-InsightsHow can leaders improve their ability to have creative insights and breakthrough ideas that drive performance improvements?

In 2001, Peter Drucker wrote in The Economist that “businesspeople stand on the threshold of the knowledge society. In this society, a company’s competitive advantage will come from an historically underdeveloped asset: the ability to capture and apply insights from diverse fields.”

There’s tremendous pressure on leaders in organizations to improve performance, not only productivity but quality services and innovations as well. To improve performance we need to continually reduce errors and increase insights. It’s like this diagram:


Most managers focus on reducing errors; that’s the most obvious thing to do. Mistakes are visible, costly, and embarrassing. Managers are trained to spot gaps and errors and well–versed in focusing efforts to eliminate mistakes. But even if we eliminate all the errors in an organization’s performance, if you haven’t created any insights, you won’t necessarily be getting ahead in the market place.

But how the heck would you go about increasing insights? That’s what Gary Klein addresses in his book Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights (First Trade Paper Edition, 2013.) Research into the way the brain works on problems and generates “aha” moments is helping leaders understand what’s needed to generate creative insights.

“When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights.” ~ Gary A. Klein, PhD

What sparks an insight? What happens when we suddenly make sense of a bunch of contradictory facts, events and somewhat unconnected impressions?

Nearly a century ago, the British psychologist Graham Wallas proposed a four-stage process of creativity. In his 1926 book The Art of Thought, Wallas observed that creative solutions appear sequentially:

Preparation => Incubation => Illumination => Implementation

That’s a model for the creative process that’s pretty much stayed with us for over a century. Authors John Kounios and Mark Beeman explain it this way in their book The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insights and the Brain (Random House, 2015):

Immersion => Impasse => Diversion => Insight

According to Kounios and Beeman, this is the classic way to think about insight, although there are several elaborations and variants. What’s requires is to step back and observe everything about the problem (immersion), examine perspectives and context, reinterpret the familiar, become aware of the unfamilar and unseen relationships, question assumptions and biases.

Once an impasse is reached, it’s advisable to stop seeking answers and change scenery and thoughts through diversion. And as the subconscious continues to make remote associations and connect ideas during a period called incubation, insights appear with a feeling of certainty and emotional thrill.

Yet, that’s only one way to explain the process of creative insights. It doesn’t always happen that way, according to Klein who offers a different framework for creative insights. I’ll share in my next post about connections, coincidences and curiosities, contradictions and creative desperation.

How have you experienced insights? What do you do to solve problems and improve performance? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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