Clarity is power and a priceless asset. Developing a deeper and clearer understanding of a phenomenon, a situation, a problem, or a concept is often the difference between gloom and glory. Having a clear, deep, and “sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation” is called insight (Cambridge dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/insight). Kiefer and Constable, (2013) describe insights as specific thoughts “often providing new understanding about something.”
The moment a person gains clarity of understanding or some new understanding often results in a reaction ‘Aha, now I understand’. Napier, (2010) argues that this ‘Aha moment’ signifies the occurrence of an insight. The author further suggests that insights can be categorized into two types of ‘Aha moments.’ The first describes the instance when a person understands something with clarity and go ‘Aha, I get it’, and the second describes an instance when a person is able to develop a new idea or form a new creative thought/perspective by understanding the information in a new way or by giving new meaning to existing knowledge called as ‘creative Aha’ or a creative insight (Napier, 2010).
Given the above, developing insights is considered pivotal to making sound decisions and taking appropriate actions. Having insights can help solve problems, reduce risks and issues, and enhance the quality of actions and outputs. However, building an ability to become insightful takes time and effort. The ability can be developed over time with experience, deliberate efforts, knowledge acquisition, and practice. Such a progression can be depicted through an insight curve.
An insight curve (or insight S curve) is similar in concept to a learning curve and is the representation of a process or journey of gaining insights naturally in relation to: a concept, problem, situation, phenomenon over time as a result of accumulated experience and absorption of information/knowledge (Napier, 2010; https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/learning-curve). Progression on the insight curve is not the same for everyone and differs from person to person depending on how much effort goes into the process. Hence, in hindsight, continuously making efforts to progress and move upwards along the curve should be helpful.
The use of the insight curve is very important to be effective at a professional level, as often the performance of work requires comprehension of tasks, problem-solving, dealing with new situations, and being creative.
Then the question is: what could be done to develop insights and how to harness the power of insights for performance of work? To answer the question, below we look at some of the possible strategies to develop insights.
Potential strategies to develop insights
- Break down and think of sequence
One of the ways to gain clarity is to deconstruct the phenomenon, situation, problem in constituent parts to see through it. It helps in analyzing the information better, understanding the sequence and linkages among the parts, asking questions, and identifying areas that may not be clearly understood. Such an approach leads to gaining a deeper understanding, being able to find new meaning and new perspective, and ultimately reaching the instance of being insightful.
The approach is successfully used in project management. Techniques such as work breakdown structure (WBS), resource breakdown structure (RBS) and lifecycle modelling enable project teams to create a mental image of various constituent parts of a situation (often considering how things should happen or will happen) leading to breaking down the complexity in a simpler form to gain a more clear understanding and insights about the work.
- Observe, observe and observe
The human sensors (i.e. vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste) undoubtedly play a significant role in helping people gain clarity and understanding things in new ways. By using these sensors people observe the situation, things, moving and static elements, vibrations in the environment, and store the facts and perceptions gained through such observations in their brains. Such information can then be recalled at any point in time to connect dots and to give new meaning to a matter, phenomenon, or problem under consideration leading to insights.
- Be receptive to insights occurrence
To gain insights one should be receptive to insight occurrence. Often people have strong pre-conceived thoughts about a thing or a situation. They become so much absorbed into their pre-conceived understanding that they are unable or reluctant to be receptive to new perspectives and ways of looking at things from a different orientation. For instance, a person working in a certain profession or a domain may become so much engrossed in his/her profession that s/he becomes oblivious to the outside professional boundary happenings and changes. In hindsight, it will impede the receptiveness of insights as a person may form a tunnel vision of things.
Kiefer and Constable, (2013) suggest that insights occur in a variety of settings and hence one should be receptive to insight occurrence. The authors note that insights could occur while walking, showering, playing with children, daydreaming, and so on so forth. To be more receptive to insights, one should not discount the occurrence of even small insights such as being able to find something that your spouse may have kept at “a never-before-used spot”, as smaller insights are the conduit to developing receptiveness to gaining larger insights.
- Insight listening
Kiefer and Constable, (2013) suggested that one of the strategies to gain frequent insights is to learn to listen for insights. The authors argue that when a person develops insight listening capability, it amplifies the possibility of gaining insights. It is like training the brain to look out for new thoughts and gaining clarity of understanding about a thing of interest. However, it is also pertinent to note that insights could occur not just for things that you may be thinking about, but also for unrelated things or a matter. Hence by developing insight listening capabilities, one can enhance their chances of broadening their understanding horizon about a variety of matters – they may be actively thinking actively or not so actively about.
- Look out for sparks and under-currents to trigger insights
Insights generation can also be amplified by focusing on sparks and undercurrents that generate thoughts. As such sparks can lead to triggering a new pattern of thoughts leading to new ideas, new understanding, and new meaning of an existing phenomenon. For instance, when we work on computers, often we encounter a range of issues such as access errors, transaction issues, and software failures, just to mention a few. While troubleshooting such issues or getting the issues troubleshot we go through a journey and come across various instances of small sparks and undercurrents of thoughts which help us find or think of new ways of looking at the problems/issues and get them resolved. So, looking out for such sparks and not discounting them as mere random thoughts could be very useful for amplifying insight occurrence as well (Kiefer and Constable, 2013).
The human brain has a wealth of potential that could be harnessed for growth and positive development. However, for people to reach their full potential and use their natural capabilities, gaining clarity and understanding of whatever work they are doing is important. Because, having clarity empowers and motivates people to further their work. When people understand things better, they are more likely going to enjoy their work.
Given the above, we have argued that learning to listen, acknowledge and gain insights is critical for both project and non-project-based work. The key thing to remember is that people have the natural capabilities to be insightful. All they need to do is to unlock the hidden potential. In this regard, we have presented some potential learning strategies to help people go up the insight learning curve and enhance their capabilities to gain insights, which ultimately empower them to contribute to their personal and professional growth.
- Kiefer, C. F., & Constable, M. (2013). The art of insight: How to have more Aha! moments. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
- Napier, N.K. (2010). Insight: Encouraging Aha! Moments for Organizational Success: Encouraging Aha! Moments for Organizational Success. Praeger.
- Pitagorsky, G. (n.d.). Project Insight: What It Is and How to Get It, https://www.projecttimes.com/george-pitagorsky/project-insight-what-it-is-and-how-to-get-it.html