The Art of Insight

How to Have More Aha! Moments

Charles Kiefer (Author) | Malcolm Constable (Author)

Publication date: 04/08/2013

The Art of Insight

What if insights could be accessed more reliably in everyday life?

  • Shows how to have insights when you need them, instead of as an occasional welcome surprise
  • Packed with real-world business and personal examples and hands-on exercises, including access to a full-featured companion website
  • Offers a flexible, creative process, not a rigid set of rules
  • Includes Online Learning Experience (coming soon on this website)

We have all experienced it: the jolt of an insight arriving like a thunderclap, the metaphorical light bulb over your head as you drive to work, take a shower, or unload the dishwasher. These all-too-elusive "aha moments" come sporadically and without warning. But what if insights could be accessed more reliably in everyday life? Charles Kiefer and Malcolm Constable have the tools to make this possibility a reality.

Based on the authors' years of research, reflection, and experiences with colleagues, friends, and business clients, The Art of Insight presents practical methods for recognizing and cultivating an insight state of mind. All too often, decision making is a forced experience that promotes recycling of old ideas and old ways of thinking. Kiefer and Constable's Insight Thinking Methods are designed to foster fresh thoughts and perspectives. But this is not a rigid set of rules-it's a creative pursuit. Guided by their user-friendly practices and helpful exercises-both in the book and online-you'll develop your own personal approach to cultivating a mindset where insights come readily so that new or longstanding problems are solved with confidence and ease.

It is the simple truth that one insight can change your life, and the next can change your organization or even the world. A go-to-guide that can make the complicated effortless, The Art of Insight offers a path to becoming a more effective thinker and decision maker.

The Online Learning Experience, whcih is free to owners of the book, includes over 21 minutes of video instruction and demonstrations, and these four self-directed and multiple-person exercises: 1) Listening, 2) Fresh Thought Hunt, Coaching Fresh Thought, and 4) Trio.

 

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Overview

What if insights could be accessed more reliably in everyday life?

  • Shows how to have insights when you need them, instead of as an occasional welcome surprise
  • Packed with real-world business and personal examples and hands-on exercises, including access to a full-featured companion website
  • Offers a flexible, creative process, not a rigid set of rules
  • Includes Online Learning Experience (coming soon on this website)

We have all experienced it: the jolt of an insight arriving like a thunderclap, the metaphorical light bulb over your head as you drive to work, take a shower, or unload the dishwasher. These all-too-elusive "aha moments" come sporadically and without warning. But what if insights could be accessed more reliably in everyday life? Charles Kiefer and Malcolm Constable have the tools to make this possibility a reality.

Based on the authors' years of research, reflection, and experiences with colleagues, friends, and business clients, The Art of Insight presents practical methods for recognizing and cultivating an insight state of mind. All too often, decision making is a forced experience that promotes recycling of old ideas and old ways of thinking. Kiefer and Constable's Insight Thinking Methods are designed to foster fresh thoughts and perspectives. But this is not a rigid set of rules-it's a creative pursuit. Guided by their user-friendly practices and helpful exercises-both in the book and online-you'll develop your own personal approach to cultivating a mindset where insights come readily so that new or longstanding problems are solved with confidence and ease.

It is the simple truth that one insight can change your life, and the next can change your organization or even the world. A go-to-guide that can make the complicated effortless, The Art of Insight offers a path to becoming a more effective thinker and decision maker.

The Online Learning Experience, whcih is free to owners of the book, includes over 21 minutes of video instruction and demonstrations, and these four self-directed and multiple-person exercises: 1) Listening, 2) Fresh Thought Hunt, Coaching Fresh Thought, and 4) Trio.

 

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - Charles Kiefer

Charles Kiefer is President and Founder of Innovation Associates, Inc., a pioneer among consultancies in bringing demonstrated innovation performance results, initially to technology-based companies and now serving multinationals across industries.

Along with Peter Senge, author of the landmark management best seller The Fifth Discipline, Innovation Associates helped establish the concepts and methods that would become known as “organizational learning”, enabling large organizations to evolve from being driven by circumstance and managed through compliance, to revitalization through aspiration and deep commitment. Most recently, Mr. Kiefer and Len Schlesinger (President Emeritus of Babson College) developed concepts based on the logic and methods of serial entrepreneurs to create the future in the face of extreme uncertainty.

Currently, Mr. Kiefer supports global companies’ executives and their teams in leveraging the human side of their enterprise, to improve the quality of their thought. His extensive experience with major multinational corporations and success in his own ventures confers him an uncommon business-oriented perspective to human-resource issues. In his consulting engagements, Mr. Kiefer steers clients to most effectively manage both the technical (“hard”) and human (“soft”) aspects of change, creating more-flexible operations and collaboration across traditional hierarchies, towards discovery and successful execution of new business opportunities. He also lectures on corporate entrepreneurship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Sloan School of Management.

Mr. Kiefer grew up in Arlington, Virginia, holds degrees in Physics and in Management from MIT, and has served on the staff of the United States Senate, in the MIT Administration, and as an officer of the management consultancy Arthur D Little. He has authored four books and numerous articles on entrepreneurship and insight. He lives with his wife near Boston. His three children are all entrepreneurs (and, most days, love it).



Visit Author Page - Malcolm Constable

After his junior year at Tufts University, Malcolm Constable spent his summer as an intern at Charlie and Robin's then newly minted Insight Management Partners (a consulting firm helping executives of large corporations access high-quality thinking). His compensation was the same insight training that the company was offering its C-suite clients. One sunny afternoon in August, he was participating in a Fresh Thought Hunt around what sort of career he might pursue after college when he had a profound insight that freed him from the narrow way that he had been defining himself. In an instant, a world of opportunities opened in front of him because he no longer viewed his future as being determined by any one decision. This experience allowed him to make a series of life choices that he never would have considered before, but it also made obvious the incredible power of insights. If any question had been left in his mind about whether this insight stuff was for real, it was now gone. For the next ten years, regardless of where Malcolm was or what he was doing, his abiding interest in insights helped him stay vigilant about his state of mind, his listening, and particularly his approach to making important decisions. After graduating from Tufts in 2003 with a degree in English, Malcolm moved to Moscow, where he worked for a consulting firm specializing in oil and gas. After two years in Russia, he returned to Boston to work for Resolve Technology, a commercial real estate consulting firm. In 2007, Charlie floated the idea of Malcolm's returning to Insight Management Partners to work full time. The company was enjoying success helping its clients achieve a significant increase in the frequency and reliability of their strategic insights. Malcolm waited almost two hours before calling back to accept. While working with Charlie, he helped develop a two-day workshop called Insight Golf, which he spun off into a separate company, teaching The Art of Insight to corporate teams using the medium of golf. Today Malcolm works at a real estate private equity firm, but he still believes deeply in the importance of insights in shaping our world. He lives in Boston and enjoys travel, soccer, golf, and squash.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Aha Moments

1 What Is Insight?

2 The Insight State of Mind

3 Insight Listening

4 Thinking into and out of an Insight State of Mind

5 Insight in Practice

6 The Art of Insight in Organizations

7 Life in an Insight State

Assessing your Progress

Online Learning Experience

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Authors

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Excerpt

The Art of Insight

CHAPTER 1
What Is Insight?

If you know what you’re looking for, you’re more apt to find it. That’s as true for finding insights as it is for tracking down a lost pair of socks.

Knowing that you want more insights gives clear direction for your unconscious mind to go to work and find an answer. The clearer you are about the specific insight you seek, the more regularly the insight will occur. It’s just like when you are considering buying a new car and you suddenly notice more cars on the road like the one you want to buy. Pause for a moment to pick a problem or topic you’d like some insight into and set it aside for use in the coming chapters.

Let’s begin with how insight differs from other types of thought. While what follows is what we have learned from others, what an insight means for us or them is not nearly as important as what an insight is for you. With this awareness in place, you can learn how to actively listen for insights and access the state of mind in which you are most apt to facilitate insights.

Insights Are Thoughts

Insights are a specific type of thought. We may think we understand what thoughts are, but let’s take a closer look anyway. For our purposes, we are going to adopt a loose definition. Thoughts are ideas, opinions, mental images, cognitive activities, or any internal activities of the mind.

Thoughts ebb and flow naturally all the time. If you were asked to think about an orange balloon, that image would appear in your mind for a moment, and then it would vanish.

Sometimes we create our thoughts by actively looking for them. The most common example of this is in problem solving. When our first thoughts don’t yield a solution, we try to bring forth new thoughts. In some cases, thoughts appear unsolicited, and we simply notice their arrival.

We are not consciously aware of many types of thinking. For example, when driving a car, we may suddenly notice that we had been absorbed in thought and were not conscious of our driving. Of course, while our minds wandered at the wheel, we continued to have many subconscious thoughts telling us to slow down, accelerate, or bear right. Although rarely vocalized and never visible, these thoughts exist and are essential for driving. It is important to remember that while we may be aware of some thoughts, a great many more are constantly occurring without our noticing.

Memory Thoughts Versus Fresh Thoughts

Thoughts are constantly occurring, even when we are asleep. We have already had most of the thoughts that occur to us in some form or another. We call these memory thoughts. Memory thoughts often occur not just once or twice but many times, like a social security number or an ATM code. Fresh thoughts, on the other hand, are new thoughts that we have never had before. Fresh thoughts are new for you even if they are old for someone else.

The distinction between a fresh thought and a memory thought is useful when exploring the nature of insight. Insights are always fresh thoughts, but not all fresh thoughts are insights. You might say to yourself, “Wow, look at that flower” or “This dinner is one of the best in my life.” These are fresh thoughts, but we would not describe them as insights. And just because a thought or idea is fresh does not necessarily mean it is good. Fresh or not, any thought that proves wrong would not be termed an insight. In fact, fresh thoughts are frequently way off base. Nothing’s wrong with having fresh ideas that are useless, as long as they serve as part of your creative process and you don’t necessarily act on them.

Most of the answers we need every day lie in memory, and there is no reason to look for an insight if the solution is already known. If the solution is not known, then memory thoughts are no longer sufficient, and fresh thoughts become essential. Memory thinking seems to have a self-reinforcing nature. With each use, we learn to depend more and more on it to solve our problems to the point that a strong reliance is established. Our educational institutions reinforce this pattern by stressing the accumulation of facts and the application of logical reasoning and generally encouraging us to become proficient memory thinkers. Thus, when faced with a question, our minds look first, and often exclusively, to our memories. When we get stuck in memory-based thinking, we are unconsciously disconnecting ourselves from our natural capacity for insight.

Fresh thoughts have a distinct, albeit often-unnoticed, feeling associated with them. A light, spacious sense of surprise or even joy accompanies a fresh thought. The presence of such a feeling can alert you that something novel has arrived. Even ideas that turn out to be poor can appear with a good feeling at the outset. Of course, some fresh thoughts carry an ugly feeling, like wanting revenge and suddenly seeing a new way to get it. Even though they are fresh, these hopefully rare cases would not be called insights.

To Have More Insights, Have More Fresh Thoughts

Trying deliberately to have an insight in any given moment rarely works, as we will see in upcoming chapters. What you can and should do is be deliberate about having more fresh thoughts. You have to discipline yourself to look for something fresh. Sometimes your fresh thoughts will be good, and other times they will be bad. You can learn to discard the bad ones, and over time the increase in fresh thoughts will yield an increase in insights.

You Need Both Kinds of Thoughts

Of course, you don’t have to create everything completely from scratch. Memory, knowledge, and the thoughts that accompany them are essential. And you must grasp the basic fundamentals of what you are doing. For example, a lawyer needs a strong understanding of case law, but the best attorneys are not those who just remember the most from law school. They also have the ability to come up with an original and persuasive approach to a case. The best doctors are knowledgeable about pathology and human physiology, but they are also skilled at applying that knowledge insightfully to a particular medical case or condition.

In the case of insight, we operate more effectively when memory thoughts are present in the background and fresh thoughts are out in front, but the right relationship between fresh and memory thoughts is not just about having one kind in the back and one kind in the front of the mind. A healthy interplay between the two must be active and ongoing. As your memory bank grows and expands, you accumulate more raw material for insights. If you are trying to become well versed in a subject, you must search for more information and more ideas outside your own and add them to your memory bank. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling believed memory of isolated facts lay at the core of creativity. Pauling’s Caltech students were reported to complain bitterly at having to memorize facts they could easily look up. One of his students, Dr. Samuel E. George, paraphrased Professor Pauling’s response:

It’s what you have in your memory bank—what you can recall instantly—that’s important. If you have to look it up, it’s worthless for creative thinking.

[Pauling] proceeded to give an example. In the mid-1930s, he was riding a train from London to Oxford. To pass the time, he came across an article in the journal Nature, arguing that proteins were amorphous globs whose 3D structure could never be deduced. He instantly saw the fallacy in the argument—because of one isolated stray fact in his memory bank—the key chemical bond in the protein backbone did not freely rotate.…

He began doodling, and by the time he reached Oxford, he had discovered the alpha helix [for which he later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry].1

Insights Deepen Understanding

All insights are fresh thoughts, but as we said before, only a few fresh thoughts turn out to be insights. So what distinguishes an insight from a fresh thought? The short answer is the quality of the thought. Insights are really high-quality fresh thoughts. They result in a dramatically improved understanding of a situation or problem such that we see things more deeply and more accurately than before.

In some cases, we have no prior understanding of the subject in question whatsoever, while in others, our understanding (seen from the postinsight perspective) is either limited or wrong. The bigger the difference between the new understanding and the old, the more dramatic the insight will seem to be.

Imagine for a moment that for some time you have been troubled by someone’s behavior. You can’t understand why he does the things he does. One evening, you are watching someone on public television explain how people’s minds work. You comprehend what the speaker is saying, and if you were asked to take a test on the subject, you would pass based on your intellectual understanding. Although the subject is interesting, it does not feel particularly relevant to you at the moment.

Suddenly, your experience is a flash of clarity. You see the big picture and you absorb abruptly and instinctively, in a personal and even visceral way, what that person on television was talking about. All the speaker’s logic and facts fall into place, and you see how everything works together. In this same instant, you realize why the person who has been troubling you behaves the way that he does. You feel a combination of surprise, satisfaction, pleasure, and relief.

In this example (which could be about something completely different—from a scientific theory to a new way to keep leaves out of your gutters), two separate things are occurring. The first is a realization and the second is an insight. When you discover or realize something, you understand it at face value, such as when you finally comprehend what someone is trying to explain to you in the way she intends you to understand. Discoveries and realizations are typically characterized by the appearance of new mental maps where none existed before, and like insights, they can be accompanied by an aha experience.

Insight is a discovery or realization that goes beyond face value, beyond the obvious. It is a deeper, more universal understanding that is often very relevant to you.

Insight is often characterized by the upending of an existing concept. The difference between a discovery or realization and an insight is not a sharp line, nor does it need to be for our purposes. The more realizations and discoveries you experience, the more likely it is that you will have an insight.

While most thoughts that occur during arguments are taken personally, when a true insight arrives, the situation or problem becomes more clear and less personal. The insight broadens the point of discussion, takes it in a new direction, or dissolves the conflict altogether.

Don’t forget the important distinction between intellectual understanding and insight. Insight includes an intellectual understanding but goes further with a deeper awareness. With insight, a new cognitive structure is formed that is different from the sum of its parts, and it usually calls for a different action. In other words, action A might have been appropriate at first, but after the insight, action B is clearly the better course.

Insights Make Things Simple and
Maybe Even Fine the Way They Are

Before we understand anything completely, we perceive it as complex. As soon as we understand the situation and the insight arrives, we wonder how we could not have seen it before. The new understanding connects existing elements in our thinking, rearranging what we know; the pieces were already in place—just not in the right place. Understanding connects the pieces and makes your understanding of reality more accurate. Sometimes our new understanding is universal, like the elegance and beauty scientists speak of when they arrive at a more fundamental appreciation of a phenomenon.

Often insights reveal that a situation we once deemed a serious issue is in fact not a problem at all—that things are actually fine the way they are. Or it may turn out that the issue is unchangeable, and the insight brings the realization that this is not such a bad thing and that there is something to be done in the face of that immutability. In these cases, insights dissolve the fear, frustration, and anxiety attached to the issue. They restore our equanimity and help us see the problem in a new light, providing new perspectives and new opportunities.

A few years back, Charlie and our colleague Robin Charbit were sharing their ideas about insight with the management team of a large organization. Over the past few years, this particular business unit had failed repeatedly to introduce new products into their marketplace, which was not only frustrating but a source of real fear for the management team. Charlie and Robin gave a brief overview of The Art of Insight and then proposed that the team spend an hour using the ideas to explore their problem.

About half an hour into their discussion, an insight hit: every other company in their industry was having even more difficulty than they were on exactly the same issue. Then another insight came shortly after that: the characteristics of the industry had so changed that simply rolling out new versions of existing products was no longer the path to success for anyone. The room filled with an enormous psychological sigh of relief. Immediately, the team discarded the track they had been on and devoted the remainder of their discussion to applying their resources into distinctly different areas. You can imagine the amount of money they saved by abandoning this dead-end course!

Insights Result in Changed
Perception

Following an insight, we see the world differently. Sometimes the difference is only slight, and other times it can be quite profound. One common experience where insights prove useful is struggling with the behavior of a friend or relative, particularly when we find ourselves chronically feeling defensive or angry. One day you may learn something about the person’s history and realize why he is prone to behave a certain way. In that one instant, the negative feelings dissolve, often to be replaced by a sense of connection, empathy, and compassion.

One colleague, whom we will call Joan, describes hating her sister for fifteen years. It got to the point that not only did she not want to be around her, but when the sister’s name came up in conversation, even in reference to someone completely different, Joan would tighten up. One day, while talking with a friend about her difficult upbringing, Joan realized her sister had created a unique way of insulating herself from their trying family situation. Although Joan and her friend weren’t talking about the sister, the sister’s behavior suddenly made sense. Joan knew she didn’t want to live in the “alternative universe” her sister had created for herself, but she knew now why it existed—and all her negative feelings simply evaporated.

Joan’s story about seeing her sister in a new light illustrates how in the moment of clarity that accompanies insight, compassion can transform anger and fear into understanding, appreciation, and even love. As with the case of Joan and her sister, insights into another person are particularly powerful because not only do they change your view of that person going forward, but they are capable of rewriting the entire history of your relationship to the point that previously hard-to-swallow experiences and memories disappear entirely.

From the moment we are struck by an insight, what once looked natural and right may suddenly appear foreign and wrong. Lifelong smokers, even after years of accumulating reasons to stop, acquiring all the medical justification, and failing to break the habit time and time again, may simply toss out their last pack of cigarettes, never to pick it up again after experiencing an insight. In the wake of an insight, acting in new ways is easy and takes less energy than when we try to move our thinking in a new direction by force of will alone. Willpower alone is sustainable for only so long. Ultimately, it gives out.

Having an Insight Is Not Necessarily
the Same as Solving a Problem

While one of the most common applications for insight is in solving a problem, it is not necessary to reach an impasse before looking for an insight. Insights unrelated to specific problems happen all the time. It is common to have insights on topics we are simply curious about. While having an insight and solving a problem are related, they are not one and the same. You can have insights when you don’t have a problem, and you can also solve problems without insight. Some problems can be answered using logic and facts already stored in our minds, but for others, an insight is essential.

Insights Are Sometimes Nonverbal

Insights are sometimes too deep to express in words. In the wake of an insight, you may get excited and want to share the experience with others, but have you ever tried to explain your new insight to a friend, only to have her look at you and say, “So what? What’s new about that? You’ve known that for years!” Other friends may feel your excitement but not have the slightest idea what you’re talking about and respond in a similarly disappointing and uncomprehending manner.

Our friend Eliot Daley attended one of our Insight Thinking workshops a year ago. He was in the middle of writing his fourth book. Early in his career, Eliot had spent three years as president of Fred Rogers’s production company, where he wrote all the scripts for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and was acknowledged by critics and peers as a gifted writer. After Mister Rogers, Eliot wrote thousands of pages of reports that changed the directions of companies and published op-ed pieces and other journal articles. He was both talented and prolific. Even his e-mails were small literary delights. One morning Eliot had an insight in our workshop.

Here is a quote from Eliot’s fifth book, Formerly Called “Retirement,” which he wrote from start to finish in two weeks in the wake of his insight. The passage describes a process in which Eliot and two partners were in a staged conversation during our workshop, having received the following instruction: “You have exactly one minute to share the issue or question you want an insight on. Then you must listen silently to the conversation of your two partners.”

When it was my turn, I posed my question.… And they began considering my brief, blunt query. Of their seven minutes of dialogue together, I heard only one thing—ten seconds’ worth. The young financier drew his right index finger across the left side of his chest as he quietly observed, “It sounds as if Eliot hasn’t decided what he wants on his name tag.”

My God! Oh, my God! An insight flared in my head like a sunburst, fierce and hot, searing itself into my mind: I have to decide! This isn’t something that just happens to me. I have to decide!

I never thought of that before. I’ve been waiting, but nothing was happening. I was going nuts, and on the verge of getting depressed, but still nothing changed. It never, ever dawned on me that it was just as simple as deciding on my identity. This is not a matter of fate—this is a free choice: Who do I choose to be?

Well, who do I choose to be?

A writer.

The answer was instantaneous, unequivocal, certain. A writer. The answer leapt up from forever in my life. A writer. That is who I am, and that is who I choose to be. That is my identity, from this instant onward and ever.

Oh, my God! Everything in the universe became clear in that moment. If I am a writer—not an unemployed jack of all trades who also “does some writing” or “is working on a book,” but a writer—then I just need to start acting like a writer, living like a writer, being a writer.

It was all so clear. The difference between what I do, and who I am. If I am a writer, then that will determine what I do, not the other way around. If I am a writer, then I organize my life, shape my priorities, spend my time, protect my space the way a writer would.

Now a robust agenda of transformational actions bloomed in my mind. Being that I am a writer, I need to create a proper space for writing. That means purging what had become my “office” of everything that dilutes or contaminates its new role as my “studio.” No more a dumping ground for whatever matters might claim my attention. No more a cluttered jumble of distracting and distressing diversions from what matters in my life. No more anything but a serene environment dedicated to delivering whatever was within me. I’d find new space in the house to transform into a “home office” and cart over there everything not related to my writing. From now on, I would never use my studio for anything but writing. Fait accompli. Sure, I hadn’t yet stirred from the conference room to actually take any of these actions, but they were as good as done. And I knew it.2

Reading the complete narrative of Eliot’s insight is well worth your time. We share this story because Eliot bubbled with enthusiasm about his insight, telling all his friends he was a writer, but we already knew that! Eliot was the best writer we knew. Even though we could clearly tell something very important had happened to him, for us, Eliot’s insight wasn’t an insight at all; it was just the obvious and simple truth.

To some degree, every insight takes you into a way of knowing what lies in the unknown, before conscious thought, in a territory that cannot be expressed in words. This inability to express a personal insight in words may indicate its importance. Often, the more important the new understanding, the harder it is to explain. This was certainly true for the life-altering insight Charlie had, which for thirty years he tried unsuccessfully to describe to others in hope of finding someone who could really grasp and thus share his experience. Finally, he approached theosophist Sydney Banks, whose insights formed the basis of Dr. George Pransky’s work.

I briefly related the incident and asked him if he knew what it had meant. Syd replied with something like, “Well, it was a really important experience for you.” I told him I knew that, but what did it mean? He replied again, “Well, I can tell it was a really important experience for you.” That was it? I was extremely disappointed. Once again I had been unable to share this experience, and I remained bothered for a couple of months—until one day another insight hit. Maybe that’s all it was: an important experience for me. Despite how life altering my insight was, it carried no great obligation of profound meaning to anyone else. All that mattered was that it meant a lot to me.

Insights Are Both Natural
and Common

We think of insights as being quite rare, but smaller ones occur all the time and are often unnoticed. Discovering a new simile to explain something to a child, figuring out why your teenager did the most incomprehensible thing, finding a new path to work, or locating your keys when your spouse placed them in a never-before-used spot—all of these can be thought of as miniature insights. By noticing these tiny, everyday realizations—in essence, catching yourself doing something right—you become increasingly receptive to larger insights.

If you observe one- to two-year-old children, you’ll notice that they seem to have realizations constantly. We have had clients tell us that they find themselves having insights while hanging out as their children play on the floor with blocks and crayons. This puts the clients in a nice state of mind, so they find themselves having fresh thoughts and insights right there on the carpet.

If the biggest reason we don’t have insights is because we aren’t looking for them, the second biggest is that we are not used to listening for them. We’ll address this further in chapter 3. With the volume setting for most insights positioned between “moderate” and “quiet,” an active mind filled with memory thinking will often drown them out, just as ambient noise can drown out a softly playing radio. When we are not engaged in listening to the loud music of memory thinking, we open ourselves to the opportunity to hear the fresh idea that may have been there all along. If an insight is not loud enough to be heard when it first appears, the potential for hearing it will persist as long as the problem stays with you. You need only seize the opportunity. Although it may not be provable, our working premise is that we are never given a problem without a solution. An insight is available to every problem if we can but hear it.

You may have had the experience of driving past a shop several times only to realize on the fourth pass that that store sells the spare part you have needed for several weeks. For some reason, the first three times you drove by the store, the thought didn’t come to mind even though the shop was there, as was your need for the part. You simply missed the message. In the movie August Rush, the title character is a child prodigy who, speaking of the music he hears in his mind, asks his mentor, “Only some of us can hear it?” His mentor replies, “Only some of us are listening.”3

Here is an example of an insight Charlie had while discussing TAOI with a friend:

One of my most interesting recent insights was not verbal but rather manifested itself as a feeling. I was discussing TAOI with my friend, who chairs a university psychology department and is an authority on pain management. He commented, as do many, on the connection between the occurrence of insight and a state of relaxation, so essential to pain management. He noted that one of the most reliable and easily learned methods of achieving a relaxed state is to slow one’s respiration rate to five breaths per minute or less. The average person breathes twelve to fifteen times a minute or more.

He went on to ask me a suspiciously simple question: “How many parts are there to a breath?” As you might imagine, I answered, “Two.” He pointed out that a breath can consist of three parts: inhalation, exhalation, and relaxation. He remarked that almost everybody misses the third part. Beyond being conceptually sound, this insight somehow soaked deeply into my body. Since then, I have found myself lying in bed most mornings, breathing in, breathing out, and resting until I feel a natural urge to take the next breath in. With my respiration rate well under two breaths a minute, waking up is one of my most fertile times for insights, and I have learned it is for many others as well.

As important as this process has been for my overall well-being, the ramifications have gone far beyond what I would have expected. I now see that deliberate relaxation is often overlooked as a fundamental element of being effective. After this discussion with my friend, I started advising my clients (executives who, like me, are used to pressing ahead 100 percent of the time) to relax the pressure, rest, and watch what happens before moving forward again. Not only have I noticed that I take my own advice with this approach more often, but I think my new understanding has worked its way into how I naturally experience the world in general.

When a fresh thought hits, we gain a new understanding no matter how small the subject matter. Sometimes an insight will occur and it will carry with it all the characteristics of an insight, but it will lack conscious understanding. Something will have changed, but you can’t quite put words to what it is. Other times you might have a new thought that carries the good feeling of an insight even though it doesn’t connect to anything specific in that moment. Only later do you link the thought to some subject of interest, as is the case when you have an insight while reading a professional journal and then months or even years later put that new understanding to work.

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The key is to look for fresh thoughts. Look into the unknown, not just into your memory banks. Be mindful of your fresh thoughts, invite them in, and be sensitive to their occurrence, and they will increase in both frequency and quality. Remember that despite the value of both insight and problem solving, having an insight is not always the same as solving a problem. If you only ask yourself for an answer to a problem, habit and the way you have been taught to think may unconsciously limit your search to your memory. On the other hand, if you look toward having an insight, your unconscious mind will find creative solutions in both your memory and the unknown.

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Endorsements

“Creating insights isn't a magical process-this book provides a practical framework for generating insights for yourself and your organization. We've used many of these techniques with our innovation teams and they work.”
-Wayne Delker, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior Vice President, The Clorox Company

“Conventional wisdom holds insights to be elusive and mysterious. Kiefer and Constable turn conventional wisdom on its head with this marvelous addition to the libraries of all those devoted to improving the quality of their thinking.”
-Len Schlesinger, President, Babson College, and former Vice Chairman, Limited Brands

“In my forty-five years in business, I have found insights to be invaluable in strategy formulation and vital in forming best-in-class products and services. This book provides a simple road map of how to achieve such insights.”
-Dick Kovacevich, retired Chairman and CEO, Wells Fargo & Company

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