Seeing What Others Don’t: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 4th, 2013 by bobmorris

See What OthersSeeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights
Gary A. Klein
PublicAffairs (2013)

A brilliant explanation of what triggers insights, what interferes with recognizing them, and how to nourish them

Long ago, I realized that the true value of most (if not all) breakthrough insights is best determined by the nature and extent of the disruptive impact they have on the given status quo.

Here is a three-part challenge:

1. How to create an environment within which insights are most likely to occur?
2. How to recognize and then grasp them?
3. How to nourish their development and, if necessary, defend them while in that process?

These are among the questions to which Gary Klein responds and he does so with a series of brilliant insights of his own.

In 2005, he learned about a movement called “positive psychology,” started by a psychotherapist – Martin Seligman – who was determined to add “meaning and pleasure to the lives of his clients” by emphasizing the positive dimension of their experience. “I felt that the concept of positive psychology applied to decision making as well,” Klein notes, and suggests that to improve performance – increase the quality of decisions – “we need two things. The down arrow is what we have to reduce, errors. The up arrow is what we have to increase, insights. Performance depends on doing both of these things.”

Klein focuses on 120 “cases” that demonstrate one or (in most instances) several of five strategies: Connections (dots, yes, but also similarities, causal relationships, and interdependence); Coincidences (clues to possible patterns of evidence and verification); Curiosities (initially, inexplicable phenomena that require closer attention); Contradictions (initially viewed as absurdities but then…); and Creative Desperation (unexpectedly resolving a problem that seems unsolvable). It should also be noted that there are situations when what seem, at first, to be insignificant insights are in fact like individual pieces of a puzzle that, when fully assembled, replicates one of Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings such as “No. 5, 1948” or “Autumn Rhythm, 1950.” Hence the importance of mastering all five of the strategies, and, developing discipline sufficient to eliminate irrelevancies as well as the determination to explore anomalies and the courage to stay the course to increased understanding.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Klein’s coverage.

o Architectural Trenches (Pages 28-31)
o The Battle of Taranto (33-36)
o The Mother of All Scientific Insights (39-41)
o The Greatest Astronomical Discovery of the Twentieth Century (46-48)
o Banking on Contradictions (62-69)
o Looking at the Data (91-93)
o The Logic of Discovery (101-108)
o Stupidity in Action (114-118)
o Flawed Beliefs (121-125)
o Rescuing Jemima Boone, wife of Daniel Boone](140-148)
o The Motivations [to Stifle Insights] (151-157)
o Down-Arrow Methods to Reduce Errors and Uncertainty (160-167)
o How NOT to Hunt for Insights (171-178)
o Diagnosis [when helping others], and, Diagnosis Plus Action (193-199)
o [How to] Increase Organizational Willpower (213-221)
o Tips for Becoming an Insight Hunter (235-236)

When concluding his book, Gary Klein makes a number of especially important observations that I have pulled together in a mosaic of brief excerpts. They suggest the thrust and flavor of his insightful curiosity. “I see the examples in this book as a collective celebration of our capacity for gaining insights, a corrective to the gloomy picture offered by the heuristics-and-biases community. [The same community of negativism and myopia that Martin Seligman rejected years ago.] Insights help us to escape the confinements of perfection, which traps us in a compulsion to avoid errors and in a fixation on the original plan or vision…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. The magic lives inside us, stirring restlessly.”

Those who read this book will be well-prepared to release that magic and then use its power for discovery and creation in ways and to an extent that may once have been inconceivable.

* * *

Note: I will soon post my interview of Gary.

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