How to use the codified steps of Insight, Sweat , Time-out, Eureka, Prove and then you will be inside the mind of the person or the group that you want to understand.
Sam Knowles revealed the secrets in his new book : “How To Be Insightful: Unlocking the Superpower that Drives Innovation”, when he spoke to Karnvir Mundrey.
” Sam tell us how do we be insightful! “
Sam Knowles: That’s a fantastic question! The concept of Insight is a much over-used concept, or rather the word is much overused and it’s a rather poorly understood concept.
We’re very good at using and overusing terms I think that are abstract and that are difficult to get to.
The Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking fast and slow says that ‘Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats, they can do it but they prefer not to’.
And we have this amazing you know each one of us has this computer the most advanced superhuman sitting between our ears but what we don’t have really are the tools and the ability to introspect and understand what’s going on underneath the hood.
I run a data storytelling consultancy in the UK called ‘INSIGHT AGENTS’ and deliberately called my business that seven years ago when setting it up because – one I think the insight is an incredibly useful, it’s a profound and deep understanding of an issue or topic a personal thing and it’s incredibly useful in innovating and pivoting and in changing and in developing new ideas and products and categories .
‘Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats, they can do it but they prefer not to’.
Insight is a superpower!
I mean really believe you know the subtitle of the book is unlocking the superpower that drives innovation and I genuinely believe that insight is a superpower that drives innovation because we’re all faced in this big data world – increasing amounts of data information we’re all faced with the challenge of how do you move from the data points that surround us that can coalesce into information and observation and indeed knowledge.
I think that insight is the step that comes after that this profound and deep understanding that might ultimately lead to something as as grand as wisdom and ultimately impact , have impact in the world but in order to get there we need to go from data to insight and that’s why well when I became I called my business this because I’d seen the word used with such gay abandoned by people who were abusing and misusing it but then I call my business ‘Insight Agents’ because this agency is about getting your fingernails dirty.
As said by Vilfredo Pareto the Italian philosopher much better known I think for his 8020’s rule than his observation about ideas and insights that- ‘an idea is nothing more than or less than a combination of old elements’ and for me that’s a really profound understanding of what an insight is.
I’m flipping here between the word insight and idea you might say perhaps with a bit too much to gay abandon about it but no I think an insight is when we take data , when we are curious enough to observe ourselves in the data that we need to make sense of a topic, an issue, a degree or whatever it might be and we’re curious and we take on a lot of information and we allow our brain to do its uniquely re-combinatorial thing of taking old and old and making something new.
Picasso, Steve Jobs, Oscar Wilde all talked about ‘genius stealing’ is really important it’s not just the alignment of the planets but it’s the alignment of the raw stuff of insight in our brains, it’s fundamentally the alignment of ideas in our brains which are represented neurally.
Now before we get to my model of insight which is at the heart of my book how to be insightful I just want to take you on a short journey through maybe the history, philosophy, the psychology and the neuroscience of insight.
History of Insight
So from the fifth century onwards when Socrates and his Acolytes and writer in general Plato were in developing their ideas, they didn’t quite talk about insight they talked a lot about similar things.
I’ve got a number of Greek words here: Idea the ‘form’ that not the reality the look or the semblance of something so Plato particularly in his republic he talks a lot about the purest forms of things that things that exhibit stone beauty there’s this ultimate pure form of beauty and things that are beautiful exhibit an element of the ultimate pure form they talk about.
‘Sophia’- wisdom to a place of knowledge and knowledge requires curiosity the Greeks call that either the ‘episteme’ or ’gnosis’-knowledge they had a sense of enoisis’- of knowing and understanding and then there’s this fantastic word that the Greek philosophers used which was ‘dioratikos’- which means clear-sight.
Now there isn’t so far as I know an ancient Greek word a Greek philosopher word for insight, but in modern Greek there is ‘dioratikoteta’- it’s insight in modern-day.
Greeks thought about it this influenced philosophy certainly throughout the western culture and then when we get to psychology when we get to the psychology of it I think some really interesting things happened so there .
There was a German experimental psychologist called Wolfgang Curler working in the 19th– 20th century and Curler demonstrated insight not only in humans but actually in chimpanzees.
So if you give familiar objects in unfamiliar circumstances to Chimpanzees in this case sticks boxes and bananas and you give them access to the tools that they could use to free the bananas suddenly once they got it they can do it again and again and again and they go and they share it with their members of their troopand they can teach it and so this is a one step removed from humanity but that I think is a really interesting , interesting set of experiments.
The gestalt psychologists they were absolutely understanding so what the Greeks had set up in philosophy and the gestalt experimental psychologists demonstrated now what I think maybe the grandfather insights the guy called Graham Wallace he was one of the founders of the London School of Economics and he set up he wrote almost impenetrable impossible to read book called the- ‘The Art of Thought’.
And in this he was the first of maybe five or six different people in very different schools in engineering mathematics psychology throughout in the 20th century who proposed a four- step model of insightful thinking now it’s almost impenetrable to read it’s got a beautiful name in the article but it’s almost impenetrable to read he said there were four stages:
He said that there was that you needed to take information on.
You needed to think about that information.
You needed to have a breakthrough when the things joined together.
And then you needed to test it.
But it was as I say almost impenetrable into all that book but this idea came up time and time again.
James Willeb Young who worked for Jacob Walter Thompson for the middle part of the 20th century wrote a lovely book called- ‘The technique for producing ideas’ where he takes Wallace’s four-step model as an unnecessary fifth one.
But you know what the Greeks had foreshadowed was beginning to be demonstrated in psychology and then really interesting newly neuroscience, neuroscience recently has shown these four steps at work.
Now two areas of psychology and pre-neuroscience neuroscience and the phrenology the Victorian pastime that has attributed different qualities and different abilities to different parts of the brain here we have marvelousness just at the top of the head of course this was like an astrology it was kind of made up science but we began to get towards an understanding of what happens in different parts of the brain and in part through accident and through brain injury.
Right here we see Phineas Gage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage) a railway worker who he’s holding a tamping iron he was using to tamp down gunpowder to blast the new railway cutting in America and it exploded and shot straight through his head the reason his eye is closed because he got an injury where the tamping iron went through his head.
It removed his frontal lobes and he went from being a devout religious man to being one of the sweariest man that the doctors have met. We began to understand where things were happening.
And recently a Caltech physicist Leonard Melodnock has helped us to understand what psychology and neuroscience particularly from tube labs John Kunias and Mark Beeman in the USA.
Using FRMI and ECE the scalp device you can see there that they really help to understand what happens at the moment of insight, what happens during curiosity and what happens as we’re recombining stuff.
They’ve demonstrated it all taking place within the brain.
So two other books to if you’re interested in this area that I would take you to now all of this the history, philosophy, psychology and neuroscience that I’ve researched and set out in much greater detail in the course of how to be insightful all of this has led me to create and to codify because I’m a great codifier if nothing else to codify a way of how to be insightful how to be more insightful.
Four Phases of Insight
There are four phases and I call it I have this thing called the step prism of insight it’s a prism it’s a way of looking at the world and t’s step because that’s an acronym for the four stages of insightful thinking.
So the first is sweat being curious immersing yourself in the topic. But not just the topic that you need to generate an insight for not just that topic but actually curiosity as a state of mind.
Of a way of being, so the analytics that we may do the data that we may gather the way that we will sift and sort data and begin to subject this data. In our immersion, our experience begin to subject it to some sorting and some shifting.
So sweat is the first phase.
The next one and this one causes the palace revolution often with the bosses when I’m training insightful thinking – is time out.
You get distracted. You get frustrated if you don’t allow your subconscious mind at the time to do its brilliant re-combinatorial thing.
So timeout is essential because crucially insight problems are not like analytical problems.
They don’t yield to the amount of time that you put in so it’s absolutely crucial even if it’s just walking around the block or making a cup of tea or having a shower going for a run lots of different techniques that you can do to give your mind time out away from the insight problem that you’re trying to solve.
Then there’s Eureka.
So Archimedes leaping out of his bath he worked out the king of Syracuse was being swindled and his crowns were made of silver not gold.
That’s another story but Eureka you have to know what it feels like. Emotionally, physically & physiologically to have an insight and then to capture it.
You know I keep waterproof crayons in the shower because the shower often happens for me many other people too.
And then prove. It’s really essential that we test our hunches of and validate them and verify them as early as possible when they’re well-articulated but as early as possible.
Now insight is fundamentally about empathy if we want a profound and deep understanding of someone or something as Atticus Finch, the lawyer says in the book ‘To kill a Mocking Bird’ to his daughter Scout the –‘You never really understand the person, until you consider things from his and indeed her point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it’.
So if you want to be insightful I strongly recommend that you follow the codified step criticism of Insight, Sweat , Time-out, Eureka, Prove and then you will be inside the mind of the person or the group that you want to understand.
Interviewer: “Thank you Sam that was brilliant”