“Business ideas are like those flying dragons in Avatar. First you have to find one, let it choose you, then be brave enough to ride it.” ― Ryan Lilly
Call it an “a-ha” moment, Eureka! or an insight: everyone wants to be a little clairvoyant. Each of us has experienced one moment when suddenly out of nowhere we clearly had a solution in our minds.
Seeing future possibilities, making new discoveries, and experimenting with your ideas may open a whole new page in your life or the life of your organization. But how can you get more of these? Can you actually program these moments?
In his bestselling book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, Gary Klein, a renowned cognitive psychologist, shares his thoughts on how individuals, as well as organizations, can increase their chances of gaining useful insights.
Based on extensive research, Klein came up with his Triple Path Model. The model can help you discover more insights by identifying triggers, subsequent activities and outcomes.
Here’s how it works.
There are three insight paths defined by Klein:
1. Contradiction Path –> Finding an Inconsistency
2. Connection Path –> Spot an Implication
3. Creative Desperation –> Escape an Impasse
Let’s look at each of them and see what can be applied to our real life situations.
1. Contradiction Path
Apart from reading Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, have you ever been in a situation when something felt not quite right? Be it a wrong pattern, strange financial report or missing data: you just can’t get it out of your mind. Klein provided a great example – Harry Markopolos, afinancial analyst who “sniffed” Bernie Madoff’s foul play well before the SEC. In fact, Markopolos’ suspicion started with that strange gut feeling – something’s wrong with that financial report!
Of course, spotting inconsistencies is not just about tracing the Madoffs and Enrons of this world. You can use this to help launch a new start-up or impactful program for your non-profit.
“If you’re part of a start-up,” writes Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer, “I believe that your success might actually be defined by whether you are willing to be inconsistent…I think this also probably applies to a much wider context than startups: I think your success might be determined by how willing you are to be inconsistent.”
Klein’s suggestion is to “use the power of contradictions better.” Train yourself to trust your intuition and spot inconsistencies. Instead of dismissing confusion, contradictions and conflicts, give them some thoughts – “use them as springboards to insights…and employ the power of curiosity.” Your discovery may lead you to a breakthrough idea.
2. Connection, Coincidence or Curiosity
Whether it’s Isaac Newton’s infamous apple, Zuckerberg’s Facebook idea, or Charity: Water, the connection path is all about the missing links and swirling ideas. “The more swirl and turbulence, the greater the chance of discovery,” says Klein. It may lead to a billion-dollar start-up or the Nobel Prize. You choose.
Accidental discoveries are not magic at all. In fact, you have to “sit” on the problem for a while. Then a sudden trigger from a different industry or non-related field may lead to the “a-ha”. Back in 1988 when the work on sequencing and cloning green fluorescent protein (GFP) just started, Martin Chalfie, a Columbia University professor was working on DNA research. He was studying the nervous system of worms. On April 25, 1989, Chalfie decided to use his lunchtime productively – he attended a seminar on bioluminescent organisms organized by his department. Chalfie’s “a-ha” moment struck him when the speaker explained the ability of jellyfish to produce visible light. Then Chalfie suddenly realized that he could use GFP in his research. He could insert GFP into the transparent worms, shine ultraviolet light on it, and “look inside living organisms to watch their biological processes in action.” The rest is history – in 2008 Chalfie received the Nobel Prize.
Klein advises us to invest in increasing serendipitous experiences in our life so that we could spur the internal idea connection mechanism to a full extent. Think about it – whether you live in Beijing, Washington, DC or Prague, it’s in your power to try to meet with different kinds of people, engage in a variety of areas, learning all sort of new ideas. These experiences may become a “hive” to grow your big idea from. (And don’t forget to use your lunchtime hours creatively!)
Consider the story of Tillie O’Neal-Kyles, the founder of Every Woman Works. After her long career with AT&T, she managed her own business as an organizational and leadership consultant. However, there is more to life than business. O’Neal-Kyles wanted to help other people. Drawing from her own experience as a single mom, she wanted to help women “move from dependency to self-sufficiency.” She didn’t know how to begin.
And there was that call which changed everything. Yes, serendipity comes right on time. It was Lucy Hall, chief executive of Mary Hall Freedom House, one of the largest recovery centers for women and women with children in Atlanta. She was asking for help! Since that serendipitous moment, O’Neal-Kyles has helped over 1,400 women — from recovering substance abusers to those who have been homeless or sexually abused — learn life skills and get and keep jobs.
But remember, you can’t stand still – you have to nurture your idea, keep working on it. David Foster Wallace said it best: “Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”
3. Creative Desperation
I like the name of the final trigger in Klein’s book – “creative desperation.” It seems that most writers and creative types are in a constant state of creative desperation. It’s that feeling when you’re trying to recall the name of that flower that you learned once when you were little while browsing Britannica. Now when you almost reached the top of Everest and see this exact flower, climbing the peak doesn’t make you happy anymore! Imagine this situation, but instead of the name of the flower, your idea is hatching.
Once we’re cornered, we usually begin to list our assumptions. Assumption one, assumption two, cross, cross, checkmark. Yet, the solution won’t come this way. A surprise or contradiction may help, writes Klein. In fact, he goes further by suggesting critical thinking, “a process of thinking that questions assumptions.” And when you’ve tried every avenue, you may decide to just pause right there.
Pause? While opinions about the value of incubation vary, research conducted by the Psychology Department at Texas A&M University showed that the idea incubation process increases our chances for insights.
In her example of 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas Circa 1939 drawn from the book by James Young, Maria Popova refers to incubation as an “unconscious processing” stage where you should be making absolutely “no effort of a direct nature.” Allow your idea to hatch in the unconscious.
T.S. Eliot used it. Edison took naps. Poincaré went to a geological excursion to receive a mathematical discovery. Why not go for a jog or walk in the forest? (Shoveling might work if you’re in Washington, DC these days!)
Discover and Share: The World Needs Your Ideas Today
“Our insights transform us in several ways,” writes Klein. “They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire… Having an insight is an act of creation. Each insight is the creation of a new idea that didn’t exist before, often in opposition to defective ideas that formerly prevailed…The magic of insights stems from the force for noticing connections, coincidences, and curiosities; the force for detecting contradictions; and the force of creativity unleashed by desperation. That magic lives inside us, stirring restlessly.”
Naturally, you can find many other ways that you could draw out your ideas. The point is – no matter what idea search process you may choose, you should act on it today, because:
Your idea today can help your nonprofit to make a difference in your community.
Your idea today can inspire someone who needs it right now.
Your idea today can transform you.
“Never be afraid to do something new. Remember, amateurs built the Ark; professionals built the Titanic.” — Anonymous