What I learnt from Seeing what others don’t by Gary Klein

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it.

Seeing what others don’t by Gary Klein

I think this book is most useful for leaders in organisations who are wondering why insights are hard to come by or unable to be acted upon.

I was hoping to gain insights into the process of getting insights (that are transformational) but I failed.

The most important thing I learnt:

Performance improvements = reduce errors + increase insights. Reducing errors and increasing insights work in opposite directions. Applying insights may lead to uncertainty, unpredictability and errors. This is why many organisations fall at applying insights because managers fear making mistakes and losing control. An efficiency group and an innovation group should be run independently but report to the same manager. An oversight group can be formed as a court of appeals to review insights from employees that were shut out by risk-averse managers.


Some things I learnt:

1. Performance improvements = reduce errors + increase insights

2. Insights aren’t just ideas, they are transformational.
“Our insights transform us in several ways. They change how we understand, act, see, feel, and desire. They change how we understand. They transform our thinking; our new story gives us a different viewpoint. They change how we act. In some cases insights transform our abilities as well as our understanding”

3. How insights originate: connection, coincidence, curiosity, contradictions, and creative desperation. The books give very good examples of these. Good stories. But few insights. Ideas can come from everywhere, in all sorts of situations, intentionally and accidentally.

4. “Anchors” – a few core beliefs that are fairly stable and anchor the way we interpret the other details. For example, “customers want us to be low-cost”. Can we change the anchor to “we will charge the customer more but at the same time make them more money”?

5. Insights don’t always require an open mind – you can have a skeptical mind and create insights. For example, not believing information that others trust without question.

6. People automatically assume novel ideas will fail.
“In 2012, Jennifer Mueller, Shimul Melwani, and Jack Goncalo published a study of why people have an aversion to creativity even though they claim to want creative ideas. The researchers found that if an idea is novel, people automatically assume it isn’t practical, reliable, or error free. Novel ideas are associated with failures.”

7. Einstellung effect – refers to how we solve problems in a way that worked in the past and never exploring other possibilities. This means “the more experience we have, the harder it is to gain insights.”

8. Something I need to work on:
“In his 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson recommends ways to increase creative turbulence. According to Johnson, we should find ways to increase the density of ideas to which we are exposed and to increase our contact with creative people. We should foster serendipity—the random collision of ideas. We should increase our intersections with different communities, using real and virtual gathering places such as coffeehouses and social networks. We should encourage group and network collaboration as opposed to individual efforts. We should take on multiple hobbies. Each of these recommendations would strengthen our chances of making unexpected connections.”

9. Very good point. Some organizations keep emphasising on the need to change but the rigidity and routineness that result can be counter-productive.
“Mostly, I worry that the doctrine of continual transformation runs counter to the emergence of insights. Advocating for continual or even periodic transformation makes it into a routine to be performed. In contrast, insights are accidental. An organization that rigidly adheres to a doctrine of continual transformation, following the creative desperation path, is different from one that is sensitive to connections, coincidences, curiosities, and contradictions.”

10. Six Sigma was successful to a point until it was found that “Too much energy was spent cutting defects to 3.4 per million, and not enough energy was expended developing new product ideas.”

11. How an organization can be effective and innovative.
“Charles O’Reilly III and Michael Tushman have advanced the concept of an ambidextrous organization—one that pursues efficiency and reduces errors for mature products while encouraging innovation and creativity in other areas. The trick is to keep the two approaches separate. The efficiency group and the innovation group would report to the same manager but would otherwise run independently of each other, lest the culture of reducing errors and uncertainty spoil the culture of speculating and experimenting.”

12. Checklist to understand why people acted in a certain way: “their knowledge, beliefs and experience, motivation and competing priorities, and their constraints.”

13. What to tell organizations who want insights:
“If we want to help organizations increase insights, we must first diagnose what is going wrong. In many cases, organizations are preventing insights by imposing too many controls and procedures in order to reduce or eliminate errors. Organizations value predictability and abhor mistakes. That’s why they impose management controls that stifle insights. If organizations truly want to foster innovation and increase discoveries, their best strategy is to cut back on the practices that interfere with insights, but that will be very difficult for them to do. Organizations are afraid of the unpredictable and disruptive properties of insights and are afraid to loosen their grip on the control strategies. Never mind that these strategies work best in well-ordered, rather than complex, settings. Organizations may need to keep their desires for predictability and perfection in check.”



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