How do we get to an “Insight”?
Insight is the ability to have a sudden “aha” moment go off in your head to a problem you have been trying to solve for a while. For many of us its often at a time when we are not thinking about this at all – like the middle of the night, when in the shower etc . Wag Dodge for instance, could never explain where his idea for the escape fire came from.
In 1949, 13 fire-fighters tragically lost their lives in the Mann Gulf fire disaster in Montana,USA. Wag Dodge, was one of three survivors. The fire fighters were in a blind gully when the wind changed direction and swept the fire towards them. The flames were 20 feet high and moving faster than they could run. They had nowhere to go; the walls of the gully were too steep.
Think about it, trapped by a fire racing towards you with nowhere to go, what would you do? An impossible problem! How would you survive?
Wag's solution was to light a fire downwind of him! The wind blew the flames ahead of him and left a burnt patch. He crouched down in the burnt patch and was saved. This practice is now included in fire fighting techniques.
Neuroscientists believe that these ”insight experiences“ have a certain sequence. The first of these is the impasse: before there can be a breakthrough, there has to be a mental block. Wag Dodge spent minutes running from the fire, although he was convinced that doing so was futile. Then, when the insight arrived, Dodge immediately realized that the problem was solved. This is another key feature of insight: the feeling of certainty that accompanies the idea. Dodge didn't have time to think about whether his plan would work. He simply knew that it would.
In my work as a consultant to business leaders, I have learnt to distinguish Business Challenges into Technical and Adaptive Challenges. Technical Challenges are known challenges, have a fixed sequence to solving them and some may require some more time and effort to solve one from another. Adaptive Challenges are quite different. They have no known solution – the skills and answers are outside ones repertoire. Adaptive Challenges are those you have to grow into solving and require mobilizing minds to operate differently. Luckily, these skills can be learned regardless of position or function. Adaptive Challenges are the ones that need the “Insight”
Different people may find different challenges “adaptive”. For as senior executive who has moved many countries and done several turnaround operations – another such role is a technical challenge – differing in scale or complexity. However for another who has never moved out of his or her home country and worked only in an established business it could be an adaptive challenge. The process we have used to help people work through an adaptive challenge is as follows
· Identify the Adaptive Challenge ( example inability to break into a new market)
· Identify what learning, new skills, behaviors need to be acquired
· Center Yourself - Find a quiet place within yourself/breathe
· Involve other – they may have another perspective
· Get on the “Balcony”- Step back and see the big picture.
· Listen to the song beneath the words- Listen to what’s not being said by reading non-verbal signals
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the very front of the brain, located right beneath the forehead .It is responsible for the executive functions, which include mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong or good and bad, predicting future events, and governing social control like losing one’s temper or getting overly flustered. It is the brain centre most that primarily anchors ones sentience, human general intelligence, and personality.
David Rock in his book Your Brain at Work explains the Pre-fontal Cortex to be like the “stage with a director”. At any given point in time there are a limited number of actors who can be on stage for the audience to see them clearly and focus on what they are doing. Should the director be out of control and allow too many actors on stage, the stage will be chaotic. The whole focus here is to keep making your director stronger so that you are clear about who will stay on and who will stay off stage at any point in time.
When I work with Senior Leaders who need to manage a transition (moving to a senior role/new business/new country) I help them build a very strong “director” and help them understand that the stage cannot be overcrowded at any point in time to effectively manage this transition. In any transition there has to be an ending and a beginning (allowing new actors with new scripts onto the stage and ensuring that old actors are off stage). The other important aspect in a transition is the first 90 days. A leader has to be focused on his deliverables to earn his or her credibility – which means the director not just ensures that the stage is optimal and the actors are the right number but decisions on who to keep on and off stage at what time, when to pay close attention to something that needs more focus, when to take a step back and reflect to see what impact he/she may be having, or what one needs to “unlearn” in this new environment.
Therefore the 90-day transition plan must build in aspects to help a leader strengthen focus, impact and enough reflection time to help be successful.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.