Download PDF

The longest of our posts, describing a better path to insight!

One trouble with important subjects is that they take a long time to learn. Psychology is such a subject and what’s more 95% of its texts have nothing to say about the issues that matter in daily life: power, status, money, friendship, rivalry, love, loss or self-destructiveness. This means that much classical psychology is not helpful in understanding motives and decisions in day-to-day matters.

To put this right we have created an approach to psychology that is robust and practical: that can be used at any time, in the moment, to access both the surface or deeper aspects of any experience; that does not depend on access to texts, theories or models, or years spent in a classroom.

We believe that such a psychology is missing for insight workers – leaving them to use forms of guesswork – however inspired or reasonable – to make sense of their researches and encounters with others.

We believe such an approach needs a very simple definition. So here it is:

“an approach to psychology that helps you to see outside of what we normally see”

We call this approach ‘Breakthrough Psychology’.

The point is that when you are working with people in a qualitative sense you experience both an observable or measurable element to the communication (“He said, a”, “she said, b”), and an implicational component of the exchange (“what he meant was, x”, “while what she meant was z”)

Experience has taught us that it is the implicational component that drives choices, decisions, and behaviour. And that often this is the component that is less visible and must be inferred or interpreted. It is crucial to understand this element if you want to generate insights that reflect the forces in our lives that determine behaviour.

It is also true that there is a substantial gap between these two elements – the observable and the implicational – in everyday life.

There are a number of reasons for these gaps:

  • We are creatures of norms – we continually underestimate the extent to which the need to look good in front of others defines our actions. This need often leads to hiding our true wishes in order to appear likeable!
  • We are often so anxious in the presence of others, especially strangers, that we lose sight of what is really driving us.
  • We do not notice how, within culture, words and actions are a mix of the observable and implicational – and that virtually everything we say carries implications. It takes a moment of reflection or different questions to reveal these links. If I ask you for some water, you are almost certain to bring me clear drinking water in a glass rather than any other kind. In this way the implicational level pervades all that we do and say.
  • We are brought up to believe in a sense of privacy, the right to our own thoughts and to keep them to ourselves. A general sense of caution pervades our inner thoughts and workings and we do not readily share them with others as a matter of course. This is partly because many of them are chaotic, contradictory, irrational & potentially embarrassing.
  • In such circumstances we are prone to invent a confabulation to explain ourselves – one which seems reasonable, sensible and grown up in front of others.
  • Even though this is so – that we confabulate in order to present ourselves as sensible adults – we do know our deeper motives and with skillful facilitation in a safe space we are able to uncover them and share them with others.

Examples of innovations led by Breakthrough Psychology from our practice:

  • Realizing that arriving was part of the journey for British Airways – and the subsequent innovation of the Arrivals Lounge.
  • Recognizing that BUPA needed to re-engineer its culture from an insurance company to that of a healthcare company to reflect its promises to customers.
  • Seeing a plane as a human habitat in the air, rather than a transportation space.
  • Applying the Kinsey scale of sexuality (1948) to madness – the idea that sensible and crazy states of mind are a continuum, rather than black or white. Just as Kinsey suggested that hetero/homo sexual elements were present to varying degrees in everyone. (Paper to Manchester University Conference, September 2011)
  • Developing a peer-to-peer approach to therapy that has  benefits for all participants similar to conventional therapy but at much lower cost. (Talk for Health).

A Charter for Breakthrough Psychology

Here are the core principles of this approach. You will be taught how to apply these during our workshops & courses.

  1.  A lot of what appears to be ‘human nature’ comes from having to deal with a certain kind of world. If we change the rules of that world – in effect create a micro-culture – then people’s nature will change. If this is skillfully facilitated, insight, ideas and depth of revelations will be greatly enhanced.
  2.  Our motivations live in our subjective experience and are very often things we are reluctant to admit to others. Therefore, creating safe environments for sharing subjectivity is the most direct route to our inner worlds where lie our unmet needs and aspirations – and where the battle between information, interpretations, desire and fears is carried on.
  3.  This subjective experience is very much nearer the surface and more available than many traditional models which see the unconscious mind as inaccessible – suggest.
  4.  If you ask people what really matters to them they will tend to focus on those things most acceptable to our conventions. But their conduct may not match these professed priorities. In uncovering the reasons behind these disparities, many people will not know where to start, or be afraid of revealing how self-regarding or ‘trivially personal’ their true motives are. It needs a powerful invitation, a place of great safety and the chance to practice with others for people to own & share their own realities in these respects.
  5.  Nearly all of us collude in hiding (even from ourselves) some motives, since many of these appear ‘dark’ (in the sense of selfish, antagonistic, illogical or a bit crazy).
  6. We also often ignore how contingent our ‘realities’ or real views are. They may need more than a change in the weather to modify them, but even simple circumstantial changes will change our views. Often views will change simply with the passing of time and opportunity for reflection.
  7.  It is a massive relief to discover through sharing with others that we are not alone in being this way. This relief leads to an outpouring of candour including previously hidden motives and rich sources of insight.
  8.  Even the darkest motives can appear quite reasonable when discussed in the light.
  9.  People are poor at reporting or describing their experiences and the reasons for their behaviour http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/more-evidence-our-memory-stinks/
  10. Confabulation is an enemy of a creative process that aims to uncover insights and new possibilities and needs to be distinguished as fiction rather than fact!
  11. People can often show you things that they can’t tell you.
  12. To depart from the norm in any direction seems dangerous and exposing – almost to become a deviant. Such conspicuousness leads for most of us to feelings of embarrassment or shame. A micro-culture where creativity is a norm can take care of these fears and inhibitions.
  13. The reluctance to experiment is compounded by the overwhelming quantity of routine, repetition and adaptation to the norm in both our professional and personal lives that makes the alluring safety of the familiar seems irresistible. Kahneman calls this ‘System One’. This is unfortunately true of much qualitative research which has become mechanised into a set of standard assumptions and procedures, many of which are inimical to openness!
  14. However, virtually every participant in the escape from the discipline of the norms by embarking on the use of ‘Abnorming’, a core technique of Breakthrough Psychology, finds in the escape an exhilarating relief.
  15. Our ideas and thoughts possess much of the character and significance of the experiences that shaped them. This significance is buried within our subjectivity. Taking into consideration these directions determined by the past and standing outside of them is a vital part of creating new insights and possibilities.

You can experience these principles put into practice on our  Advanced Practitioner’s Course in Qualitative Research, run in partnership with the Market Research Society and leading to the Advanced Practitioner Award.

If you would like a download of this post with these principles, it is here: