The 7th Sense: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: June 18th, 2015 by bobmorris

7th SenseThe 7th Sense: How Flashes of Insight Change Your Life
William Duggan
Columbia University Press (2015)

How and why “your first six senses tell us who you are. Your seventh sense tells who you can be.”

Opinions are divided with regard to what is generally referred to as the “Aha!” moment — referring to Eureka! (“I have found (it)”) reputed to have been exclaimed by Archimedes — when there is a breakthrough in understanding. Some believe that it is the latest step or stage in a scientific process whereas others see it as an isolated experience. In Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement, William Duggan observes, “Suddenly it hits you. It all comes together in your mind. You connect the dots. It can be one big ‘Aha!’ or a series of smaller ones that together show you the way ahead. The fog clears and you see what to do. It seems so obvious. A moment before you had no idea. Now you do.”

This in essence is strategic intuition. It is very different from ordinary intuition such as vague hunches or gut instinct. “Ordinary intuition is a form of emotion: feeling, not thinking. Strategic intuition is the opposite: It’s thinking, not feeling. A flash of insight cuts through the fog of your mind with a clear, shining thought. You might feel elated right after, but the thought itself is sharp in your mind. That’s why it excites you: at last you see clearly what to do.” Strategic intuition is also different from snap judgments (i.e. expert intuition such as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Blink), hence the importance of developing the discipline needed to recognize when a given situation is new. In that event, “disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.” It is this term, “discipline,” that differentiates it from all other forms of intuition.

In his latest book, Duggan acknowledges the importance of this sixth sense but also notes that one’s intuition only works “when you encounter something very similar to what you’ve seen before. If the situation is new, your sixth sense isn’t enough…For a new situation, you need a new idea. And your sixth sense cannot give it to you. Your intuition gives you the same idea, again, faster and better with each repetition. For new situations, for new ideas, you need something else.”

What would that be? The seventh sense because it is the mechanism of the human mind that produces new ideas. As Duggan explains, “It’s the epiphany, the flash of insight, the Eureka moment — in the form of an idea you never had before. And in its highest, rarest form, it’s an idea that no one else had before either. The seventh sense is how new ideas are born. And not just new ideas, but useful ideas. Human achievement advances through flashes of insight that come from the seventh sense.”

All that said, let’s not ignore the importance of the sixth sense. It is absolutely essential, for example, to emergency room staff members because almost all of those entrusted to their care are strangers. Decisions must be made based on prior experience as well as training. The same is true of firefighters and countless others who much cope with immensely complicated situations, to be sure, but they are not unprecedented situations.

I am grateful to William Duggan for providing an abundance of information, insights, and counsel about the nature and power of the seventh sense. He includes dozens (hundreds?) of real-world illustrations of how flashes of insight — in unfamiliar situations — can reveal extraordinary ideas, ideas that would otherwise be inaccessible. He explains the science behind the sixth sense and how it differs from other human mental capabilities; he then provides practical tools and exercises that will help his reader discover and develop their own seventh sense. Ultimately and inevitably, the value of the material in this book will be determined by the extent to which a person can free their mind, formulate and execute a personal strategy map, and then focus on a question to be answered or a problem to be solved that is of greatest interest and potential importance. That will serve as a strategic objective that requires a process of networking to be achieved.

As I thought about all this while reading the book, I began to make all manner of correlations with some of the greatest breakthroughs in innovation throughout human history. Only a seventh sense could have suggested to Johannes Gutenberg, for example, that combining a wine press with separable type could somehow (perhaps) mass produce copies of a document such as the Bible. I am also reminded of another situation, centuries later, when Wilbur and Orville Wright recognized that “the difficulty was not to get into the air but to stay there.” They built their first aircraft from split bamboo and paper. Kitty Hawk (North Carolina) had open space and an ample supply of a precious commodity: wind. The idea was to master gliding, after which Wilbur reckoned it would be easy to add a motor. “Maintaining equilibrium was the key–not much different than riding a bike.”

Granted, few (if any) of those of us who read this book will experience such a flash of insight but we can indeed stimulate, nourish, and develop a seventh sense that, when needed most, will perhaps help us to recognize, to understand what we need to know when all of our other capabilities cannot.

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