Posted on February 24, 2021 · Posted in Blog, General, Memo Plus Gold, Personal

Insight refers to that moment of clarity when a solution comes to you or a connection is made between new material and existing knowledge and you know instinctively that it is correct.

This happens when the brain puts together unconnected neurons, usually when it is quiet or reflecting on something other than the issue at hand.

When people have insight, they also have a burst of energy and a dopamine reward in the brain, and the process also permanently changes the brain at a physiological level by creating new neural links.

It is not general creativity – but is a process, a way of thinking and perceiving. Insight is also different to intuition, which is a nudge or a hint about the direction you need to take, rather than the whole solution.

How do insights work?

Mark Beeman of Northwestern University is probably the best-known and most respected neuroscientist working on insight. He summarises the elements that make up insight in three ways.

  • There is unconscious processing – when solutions come to people when they are not thinking about the problem in the same way as they did before, like when someone asks a powerful question or they genuinely put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
  • There is a relaxed mind – when someone’s calm and in a good mood.
  • And then there is the sudden answer – this is when the solution comes, it is a surprise but they are confident about it; they just know it is right.

So, below are some details on those elements, with the scientific evidence pointing to how insight happens and how you can create the optimum conditions for it.

Creating insight in the organisation.

And how do we apply all this to our wider work context?

When we are solving problems in conjunction with other people at work, we tend to do the opposite of what the science indicates will be most effective.

We put pressure on ourselves with a deadline, we gather more data, we brainstorm as a group… all of which demands a lot of brain-processing and makes it hard to have insight. It also tends to reduce the range of solutions as a group conforms to consensus, collective thinking.

A better approach is to define a question as a group, then for people to individually take time off and allow their brains to process and solve the problem. The group then comes together to review and agree on the solutions.

Creating insight in practice.

Insight is useful in many work contexts especially in change and learning.

You can design learning and other interventions for insight creation rather than instruction. This means:

  • Introducing new ideas in a relevant context for the person. For example, linking learning to strategy or personal goals.
  • Understanding the current mindset of the person and position content accordingly. In practice, people will all have different starting points so designing content to be flexible and ensuring that outcomes can happen at different times is important. This requires for example, facilitators who understand the overall goals and who can think on their feet, monitoring where individuals are and then using the things that happen in the room to make links. They should also know when to push a point home and when to leave it for reflection.
  • Using powerful questions to generate insight, as in offering new and different perspectives such as stories, personal anecdotes and external examples.
  • Giving people time to reflect is essential and design in active reflection tools, especially when the stakeholders for the programme or event believe people need to be busy. We use techniques like coaching on the go, which provides all the benefits of coaching whilst they are walking. The movement seems to reduce inhibitions and free up thinking space.
  • Designing programmes and events with an overnight stay, say from lunchtime to lunchtime. This provides participants with the natural downtime of sleep which is known to enhance the making of new connections.

Insights can be fleeting, so it is important to capture them when they do happen and to fix them in the mind.

As usual, we remind you to take your Memo Plus Gold daily. It will help to keep you alert and mentally sharp.Natural memory enhancer