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If you have clicked on the video you will have seen examples of order emerging from chaos. You may also have noticed that several different forms of order emerge as the pendulums continue to swing. The emergence of insight is a bit like that! It is not necessarily a linear sequence, but there are steps you can take, described below that enhance your chances of success. I call these steps my Insight Engine and the remainder of this article spells them out.

As with most things, it is the combination of understanding and practice that will help you get better at generating insights. You will benefit hugely by putting time into both.

An Insight Engine is not like a mechanical engine. It is a mental process and is subject to all the common distortions, distractions and hurdles that accompany our mental activities. These are the biggest hindrances to insight and may be magnified by unhelpful agreements you have made to follow a research protocol that is not conducive to insight-generating activities: too much Q&A for example!

It is also, a personal engine not a mass produced one: there will be areas where you are more insightful than me and vice versa.

There will, however, be times for both of us as insight seekers when we are stuck, lost or lacking in insight. The secret in these moments is to relax, do something different but keep the inquiry in the back of your mind.

A far as I know, few professionals have bothered to outline their insight process, even though this is essentially what we are paid for. This is amazing and indicative of the nature of insight and the fact that it is difficult to describe. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prepared to try to set out our process in the hope that as we work to distinguish insight and the steps towards it we build a bigger and better understanding that leads to better practices.

We must start with our observations on the Nature of Insight. What kind of phenomenon is it? We can hardly study it if we don’t know what it is. The first place to look is in the language that surrounds insight: ‘the AHA moment’, ‘the dawning of awareness’, the sudden realisation, the ‘switching on of the light’, a new perspective.

All of these point to the fact that insight is an awareness phenomenon, a mental act, that has not occurred before. These words suggest an arising, a dawning, and these are the sorts of terms we use to describe something that is born rather than just found.

So somehow we give birth to insights, we need to ask now from what seeds are they born?

In my own engine there are three birth places for insight and I will list these now before going into them in more detail:

  1. Insights born of learning
  1. Insights born of reflection
  1. Insights born of meditation

Before we get into detail, a note on process and timing, they are listed in the sequence in which they usually occur, though sometimes in my mental world the insight born of, say, reflection precedes that born of learning – though it may be based upon it. So the order of the sequence can change and we must be open to that.

  1. Insights born of learning

These are insights that arise from the data. They are particularly prominent when new important information that has genuine meaning for people arises in a study or inquiry. When you are exploring a new field or phenomenon, many insights are of this type, but as your topic becomes more established, well-documented and explored, the amount of new information will dry up. This can even happen in one study: the inquiries at the beginning of your journey yield much, while those in later parts seem repetitive and lacking in novelty.

In general if you are working on an area that has been heavily researched or is of little genuine interest to consumers it will be hard to find insights in the data.

  1. Insights born of reflection

These are realisations that come to light as we reflect upon our inquiry, our experiences and the data. We are mulling them over to examine the things we have learned, explore them, see if they’re consistent, if they hold up, make sense. We have to check them against our own experience to see if they can be verified. This process starts with the Themes we have identified using Grounded Theory and is done in as ‘free mind’ way as we can, remaining open to associations, emotions and puzzles as we explore those themes. We notice contradictions and consequences and work through them.

In colloquial terms an insight-seeker might describe this as ‘thinking about the findings’. It is my view that always this part of the journey to insight is too hurried.

Then when we have seen that the insight is valid, we apply ourselves to exploring the inner meaning of the knowledge, by applying the process of meditation.

  1. Insights born of meditation

In this part of the engine we literally ‘try on’ the insight like we might try on a new jacket. We imagine that it is so, that this insight reflects reality in a meaningful sense. We then use the observer part of ourselves which we have developed in our practice of mindfulness, to observe without judgment the nature of the world that shows up when the insight is applied as a filter to reality. We hope that viewing the world through the insight offers a richer and more authentic version of reality.

We can do this as a meditation on the past, present or future. Often a genuine insight will offer better explanations of phenomena in all three time zones. What does our observer part notice in the application of the insight? Is there a more authentic, genuine and valid perspective that arises from the insight or not?

It is sometimes the case that insights offer partial explanations not complete ones. They may still be useful.

So there are three parts to my insight engine: learning, reflection and meditation. And I get better at all aspects of insight generation the more I practice & understand all three. Just one or two won’t get the job done as well as I can do it!

We teach these practices in Paths to Insight on our Advanced Practitioner’s Course. Come and try them out for yourself. We also provide an invaluable set of references for you to increase your understanding as you practice.

There is fundamentally no reason why a university graduate with some years of work experience should have access to inisghts in, say the package holiday or cosmetics markets, to pick a couple at random. But there is a way to develop that insight capability by engaging in distinguishing, understanding and practicing your own Insight Engine!

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As a psychologist, psychotherapist and research practitioner of 40 years, I've had the benefit of the experiences of more than 100,000 people around the world. They've talked about their daily lives, hopes, fears, ambitions and needs. These experiences have helped me to contribute to innovations from Beds in Business and the Fast Track for airlines to television drama and online communities. Specialties:Large groups, facilitation, application of psychological theories to commercial issues