Google the word ‘Innovation’ and you’ll find that some leading global corporations are actively seeking suitable partnerships with anyone with an Innovative idea and will help them develop it. Why? Because these companies know that innovation creates the future. So where does an innovative idea come from?
In his new book, Seeing What Others Don’t, Psychologist and author Gary Klein suggests that innovation starts with insight.
Klein sought commonalities in 120 real examples of where insight led to successful outcomes. He describes 57 of these as “major examples” and some as “fleeting mentions”. Amongst his examples are an insight that uncovered vast financial fraud, led a student to discover Pulsars and on a lighter note, enabled anyone to win at Fantasy Baseball. I particularly enjoyed reading the story ‘Rescuing Jemima’ which tells of Daniel Boone, the American frontiersman hunter, who uses his insights to rescue 3 young girls who had been kidnapped.
Seeing What Others Don’t is divided into 3 parts. Firstly, Klein distills the conditions needed to generate insights. As you might expect, he provides a wide range of thought-provoking stories of discovery ranging from medical research and the military to astronomy and financial fraud. From this distillation, Klein proposes his ‘Triple Path Model’ for generating insights.
I found myself skip-reading the wordiness and repetitive use of many of his 120 examples. However, I did gain an important insight for myself. I realised that by skip-reading, I was either suffering from ADD or simply allowing his writing style to get in the way of my own learning. And there is lots in here to learn. Which moves me on to Klein’s second theme: ‘What Interferes With Insights’.
Klein starts with ‘Stupidity’; no pulling punches here! He goes on to identify some of the everyday working practices and processes that force people to focus only on the (‘Reduction of Errors’). He shows that these working practices are very effective at snuffing out insight. From my own experience of corporate life, I found much that was familiar in this part of the book.
In the third part of the book , Klein offers more examples of insight generation and he offers his ‘Triple Path Model’ as a guide for generating insights. I found the breadth of examples (ranging from teaching a novice squash/racquetball, to the bankruptcy of Kodak) to be useful in bringing the concepts in his model alive. Although he makes no claim for this model being ‘the holy grail’ of insight generation, it does make clear some of the conditions and environments he found have a positive effect.
Klein’s research confirms that developing insights and innovation fundamentally requires an enquiring mind and a level of persistence and can sometimes be born out of a what Klein identified as Desperation to change something. When Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, was asked about how he produced his invention, he said:
“Creating the web was really an act of desperation, because the situation without it was very difficult .