This wasn’t supposed to be mystery story. It started out innocently as a collection of clippings from newspapers and magazines. I would come across an article describing how someone made an unusual discovery, and I’d add it to a stack on my desk. The stack included notes describing stories I’d heard during interviews or in conversations. Like other enthusiasms, the stack sometimes got covered up in the competition for space.
“No one has taught me more about the complexities and mysteries of human decision-making than Gary Klein.”
But unlike the rest, this stack survived. Whenever it got completely buried, it recovered each time I found another article and searched for a place to put it. This pile of clippings endured the occasional bursts of house cleaning that sent many of its neighbors into the purgatory of my file cabinets, if not the trash basket. I’m not sure why it survived. I didn’t have any grand plans for it. I just liked adding new material to it. And I liked sifting through it every few months, savoring the stories.
Here’s an example of the type of incident that made its way into my stack. Two cops were stuck in traffic, but they didn’t feel impatient. They were on a routine patrol, and not much was going on that morning. The older cop was driving. He’s the one who told me the story, proud of his partner. As they waited for the light to change, the younger cop glanced at the fancy new BMW in front of them. The driver took a long drag on his cigarette, took it out of his mouth, and flicked the ashes onto the upholstery.
“Did you see that? He just ashed his car,” the younger cop exclaimed. He couldn’t believe it. “That’s a new car and he just ashed his cigarette in that car.” That was his insight. Who would ash his cigarette in a brand new car? Not the owner of the car. Not a friend who borrowed the car. Possibly a guy who had just stolen the car. As the older cop described it, “We lit him up. Wham! We’re in pursuit, stolen car. Beautiful observation. Genius. I wanted to hug him it was so smart.”
I like this kind of story that shows people being clever, noticing things that aren’t obvious to others. They’re a refreshing antidote to all the depressing tales in the popular press about how irrational and biased we can be. It feels good to document times when people like the young police officer make astute observations.
What changed the fate of this stack of discoveries was that I couldn’t answer an important question. I am a cognitive psychologist and have spent my career observing the way people make decisions. Different types of groups invite me to give talks about my work. In 2005,1 learned about a movement called “positive psychology,” which was started by Martin Seligman, a psychotherapist who concluded that his profession was out of balance. Therapists tried to make disturbed and tormented people less miserable. However, eliminating their misery just left them at zero. What about the positive side of their experience? Seligman was looking for ways to add meaning and pleasure to the lives of his clients….
ENTERING THROUGH THE GATES OF INSIGHT:
HOW DO INSIGHTS GET TRIGGERED?
ONE Hunting for Insights
TWO The Flash of Illumination
FOUR Coincidences and Curiosities
SIX Creative Desperation: Trapped by Assumptions
SEVEN Different Ways to Look at Insight
EIGHT The Logic of Discovery
SHUTTING THE GATES: WHAT INTERFERES WITH INSIGHTS?
TEN The Study of Contrasting Twins
ELEVEN Dumb by Design
TWELVE How Organizations Obstruct Insights
THIRTEEN How Not to Hunt for Insights
OPENING THE GATES: HOW CAN WE FOSTER INSIGHTS?
FOURTEEN Helping Ourselves
FIFTEEN Helping Others
SIXTEEN Helping Our Organizations
SEVENTEEN Tips for Becoming an Insight Hunter
EIGHTEEN The Magic of Insights