Doors to developing capacity for insight
Weekly insights 5
Insight plays a fundamental role in how people make meaningful decisions and thrive during uncertain times. The capacity for insight separates failed projects from successful ones and guides change-making during disruption waves. But getting insights is not an easy task.
Although it's not often acknowledged, access to insights is restricted for various reasons. These restrictions can be formal (bureaucratic, legal, religious, political) or informal (fixed habits, resistant behaviors, fear of change, poor introspection skills, lack of reflective learning).
Just as civilizations partly collapsed because access to knowledge was restricted to the few, organizations would weaken their competitive advantage in front of disruption if they don't make insights readily available to all of their teams.
Insight does not belong to one person or the elite – it's everyone's journey to unlock their creative footprint and find a way to contribute meaningfully.
An organization that doesn't cultivate insight at every organizational level fails its employees and the people they serve. A leader with insight might be an incredible asset, but this alone is not enough to keep an organization competitive and make its culture flourish. On the contrary, leaders on the top might overlook many important aspects as they are removed from the day-to-day operations and interactions.
The dark side of success can be a by-product of limited insight, and so is a lot of the disruption that happened throughout history – a consequence of short-sighted decisions that backlash in ways no one cared to anticipate. So, knowing this, democratizing insight as a skill is the collective responsibility of the present day. It's time to tear down the censorship on insight previously justified as a danger to the status quo and losing control.
The first step, however, is to learn to recognize insights –big, small, yours, or someone else's. The journey is a choice everyone can make based on their curiosities, inclinations, and circumstances.
A business culture needs to ensure three spaces of activity for employees to exercise their capacity for insight, from learning to generate relevant insights to taking the right action steps. The three spaces are inspired by 3 of the archetypes illustrated by tarot deck cards that each reveal an interesting core attitude toward insights:
1/ Meditate as the Sage (or *Hermit)
The Sage archetype is usually interpreted as a retreat into self, isolated and away from the external world. Going through a hermit phase is associated with seeking silence away from the noise. Today's world is not "hermit-friendly" as it is always loud and on the move. However, entering the Sage mode in your journey to insight is a necessary pain.
Whether "seeing is believing" or "believing is seeing," one thing applies to both: perception and interpretation contaminate each other. Depending on the situation, it is not always obvious which one holds the upper ground. In a stressful environment, questioning the validity of judgments is the last thing people make time for. The constant pursuit of meeting targets and overachieving objectives creates very wide gaps for mistakes and failure that can sabotage the business in the long run. Most of these errors are not easily measured since they are accumulated biases and superficial learnings.
But when the world is spinning fast, meditation seems like a naïve solution. After all, how can sitting still solve problems? For starters, it won't create extra problems that rushed decisions, and poor judgment might lead to.
The act of meditation is more than what meets the eye (it doesn't mean sitting in a yoga pose, breathing in a pattern, chanting mantras, or visualizing the body). In business, meditation is the space and time carved to reflect. It doesn't necessarily mean people sit in silence for a period of time (although that's not a bad idea at all). It starts with embracing how things are and acknowledging the ongoing change. Accepting how things are, paradoxically, brings a more authentic drive to rethink and recalibrate values, purpose, ways of working, different experiences, and key lessons. To receive insights, you must take a step back to see the bigger picture and redefine what is valuable.
During the disruption, meditation is a meaningful pause that can help companies reinvent themselves and give their people the chance to align and contribute in a better way.
For the Sage, meditation is the openness to learn-it-all and not a restless pursuit to know-it-all. Becoming aware of the limits of knowledge, how fragile and poor judgments can be, and accepting all of this realization unlocks wisdom which is the first door to insight, building a growth mindset.
Wisdom understands that disruption is just another event in the fabric of the universe.
Navigating the disruptive wave can be done effortlessly if you learn to see the unity of it all. But it might prove difficult and inefficient for teams to work with Sages constantly. It is best to recognize their power and strength beyond here and now. The insights Sages generate are wide, unifying, and beyond the current horizons. They are great at observing the flow of disruption and understanding its force and impact. Yet, spending too much time in the Sage mode can lower your appetite for innovation, playful curiosity, and willingness to make mistakes. For that, it is useful to consider the next activity.
2/ Discover as the Fool
During collaborative projects, it's helpful to design moments for reflection instead of desperately seeking to fill the awkward silence. Insights often occur in those moments if allowed, but that's not always a guaranteed source. Great ideas can also come from very unusual and unexpected places.
Einstein's ground-breaking work germinated when he did an unrelated patent examination job with mundane tasks. That was a time of discovery where curiosity had the freedom to manifest, probably as an attempt to escape boredom. Regardless of how accurate the correlation is, the reality is that innovation requires some sense of "foolishness" and an appetite for wandering into the unknown. People crazy enough to overthrow conventional thinking and create new theories were usually outsiders in that field who were heavily criticized since their ideas weren't backed up by extensive research.
Somehow, it's the detachment from the conventional path that brings true discovery. Not taking everything as a rule and asking "childish" questions creates space for some of the most innocent yet disruptive insights. To discover anything of value requires you to take risks and act with a degree of confidence in your ignorance.
The Fool mode may seem reckless and unfocused, but this is just on the surface. The Fool doesn't reflect on values but reinvents them by tossing the old away, saying, "oops!" and moving on. When work becomes too tense and serious, the Fool might be the key to easing the flow and making way for insights that are likely to sound like a crazy idea at first. The second door to insight is the curiosity to discard the knowledge everyone holds in high regard and seek a new path.
The main strength of the Fool mode is the ease of navigating uncertainty and disruptive events. Not engaging with their gravity can prove very effective in making a better judgment. Still, it can also mean that it leads to poor decisions because it underestimates the seriousness of the situation. The Fool mode is not good for making decisions – the Sage does that better. However, too much divergence and recklessness can lead to a great deal of imbalance. To find a counterbalance, the third archetype connects the prior two in the conversation through a special talent – experimenting.
3/ Experiment as the Magician
The key differentiator for creative work is the depth of insight it exudes beyond the moment of making.
Audiences are still in awe at Shakespeare's insight into human nature through his portrayal of moral conflicts and escalating torment in his tragedies. Da Vinci's pursuit of transferring the flight of birds into that of a flying machine that could carry people may have come from an insight into the future and the potential of technologies evolving through biomimicry.
In a sense, this is a work of magic to the untrained eye. For that, the Magician mode brings the appreciation of experimenting and finally turns disruption into an opportunity. It's no longer only about seeing the world but seeing through it and weaving new stories and possibilities into its fabric. The Magician is possibly the most powerful of the three archetypes. The door to insight unlocked by this mode is creativity. The value of focused and peripheral learning increases in the hands of the Magician, who can empower people and guide high-quality innovation into the market. But a strange atmosphere begins to settle when someone is "too much of a magician."
"When you go to see a singer, you want to see them sing their best; when you go to see a dance, you want to see them dance their best; when you go to see a magician, you want to see them f*k up." (Jay Samit)
Taking pride in appearances and maintaining the illusion of power can be the greatest weakness of the Magician. Big companies fail hard when they trust the Magician mode for too long. All archetypes can be wrong and follow pseudo-insights. Still, the Magician will be held responsible the most because they are the experimenters who manufacture a reality to help others see. Going beyond words and stories and into things is a powerful and costly transfer.
Each archetype holds strengths and weaknesses. Alone, they all have different visual impediments, but used interchangeably can cultivate insight and put diverse knowledge to good use. The three doors to insight – wisdom, curiosity, and creativity – are not the only ones but learning to go through these three will build a strong relationship to insight. What follows from there on is how you want to use this skill to make a difference.
Understanding insight is still a strange, mysterious riddle. While it's greatly valued, it often goes unrecognized and unappreciated. Some insights can outlive the mind that first spotted them, but they can also fade away in the blink of an eye if not given proper care. Everyone has their preference but trying them on as different roles will help you build flexibility and respond to the call of insights.
I invite you to meditate, discover and experiment to define your journey to insight. You might be surprised by what you discover.
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