What is Insight?


"A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience." — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Some say we’re in the Age of Insight.  Others say insight is the new currency in the Digital Economy.

And still others say that insight is the backbone of innovation.

Either way, we use “insight” an awful lot without talking about what insight actually is.

So, what is insight?

I thought it was time to finally do a deeper dive on what insight actually is.  Here is my elaboration of “insight” on Sources of Insight:

Insight

You can think of it as “insight explained.”

The simple way that I think of insight, or those “ah ha” moments, is by remembering a question Ward Cunningham uses a lot:

“What did you learn that you didn’t expect?” or “What surprised you?”

Ward uses these questions to reveal insights, rather than have somebody tell him a bunch of obvious or uneventful things he already knows.  For example, if you ask somebody what they learned at their presentation training, they’ll tell you that they learned how to present more effectively, speak more confidently, and communicate their ideas better.

No kidding.

But if you instead ask them, “What did you learn that you didn’t expect?” they might actually reveal some insight and say something more like this:

“Even though we say don’t shoot the messenger all the time, you ARE the message.”

Or

“If you win the heart, the mind follows.”

It’s the non-obvious stuff, that surprises you (at least at first).  Or sometimes, insight strikes us as something that should have been obvious all along and becomes the new obvious, or the new normal.

Ward used this insights gathering technique to more effectively share software patterns.  He wanted stories and insights from people, rather than descriptions of the obvious.

I’ve used it myself over the years and it really helps get to deeper truths.  If you are a truth seeker or a lover of insights, you’ll enjoy how you can tease out more insights, just by changing your questions.   For example, if you have kids, don’t ask, “How was your day?”   Ask them, “What was the favorite part of your day?” or “What did you learn that surprised you?”

Wow, I now this is a short post, but I almost left without defining insight.

According to the dictionary, insight is “The capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.”   Or you may see insight explained as inner sight, mental vision, or wisdom.

I like Edward de Bono’s simple description of insight as “Eureka moments.”

Some people count steps in their day.  I count my “ah-ha” moments.  After all, the most important ingredient of effective ideation and innovation is …yep, you guessed it – insight!

For a deeper dive on the power of insight, read my page on Insight explained, on Sources Of Insight.com


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