How Creative Insights Differ from Intuitions & Why It Matters

Creative-InsightsWhat’s the difference between intuitive thinking and creative insights? Both can lead to breakthrough ideas. But there’s a difference.

In my previous posts about intuitive thinking, I described how intuition uses our experience to guide us to recognize patterns and apply them in new ways to solve other problems. Understanding this helps take the mystery out of intuition so that we can use it to complement analytic thinking processes and solve problems better, often more quickly.

As a leader in any kind of organization, we face complexity in daily decisions. Learning how to avoid decision errors is a priority. We are burdened by a tremendous amount of data, which can be useful when appropriately analyzed, or in some cases, overwhelming and misleading. Clearly, we need all of our mental abilities, including those of intuition and insights.

I’m reading books by Gary Klein, PhD., a research psychologist who studies decision-making, intuitive thinking, and creative insights. He explains in Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights:

  • Intuition is the use of patterns already learned, whereas insight is the discovery of new patterns.
  • We get a new piece of information that combines with other information we already have, and presto, we make a discovery.
  • Stories are a way we frame and organize the details of a situation.
  • Insights shift us toward a new story, a new set of beliefs that are more accurate, more comprehensive, and more useful.
  • Our insights transform us in several ways. They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire.
  • Compared with routine problem solving, insights aren’t conscious or deliberate.

Most importantly, insights change how we act, what we do next, what’s needed for validation of new ideas. Are there any practical ways to increase the flow of insights? If we accept the premise that performance improvements require more than reducing errors, that it’s also necessary to increase insights, then how do leaders set the stage for creative insights?

In Klein’s meticulous analysis of 120 cases, he discovered five paths that people followed that lead to brilliant insights. Each of these five strategies can be applied to any problem in order to make new discoveries. In some cases, more than one strategy was applied. People who came up with breakthrough solutions were attuned to these five paths:

  1. Connections
  2. Coincidences
  3. Curiosities
  4. Contradictions
  5. Creative desperation

People with these mindsets are primed for having insights. They pick up trends through making connections, they spot patterns, they’re curious about irregularities, and they notice coincidences that might be significant. They don’t ignore contradictions or anomalies. Or, in some cases, they’re just desperate to try anything that might work.

It’s always hard to dissect the human thinking process and know what’s the best approach for us mere mortals. So I think Klein’s ability to distill the insight process into five paths has some merit. If we want to improve our chances of having insights, we need to notice connections, coincidences, be curious, spot anomalies, and sometimes try things that don’t seem to make sense.

What do you think about this framework for stimulating insights? What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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