Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I have always been intrigued by insights. They sound so obvious when I hear them. But where do they come from? And why are some leaders so good at producing insights?

So I have set out to find out more about insights. Of course I googled 'insights' and narrowed the search down to a few million items. Wikipedia was up near the top and gave the clinical definitions of "Insight - manifests itself in suddenly understanding how to solve a difficult problem" and "Act of or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or seeing intuitively".

Sounds just a little elusive to me. Then there is "Power of acute observation and deduction, penetration, discernment, perception." Well, that clears it up. I just have to squint and look real hard.

Maybe insights come the likes of Yogi Berra who, amongst other things, is credited with the following:

"It was hard to have a conversation with anyone, there were too many people talking." "It gets late early out there." "You can observe a lot by watching." Well, maybe these aren't insights.

Insights zero in on the core of something. Insights provide a simplifying way to look at a situation. Insights appear to be the product of an intuitive and deep understanding and they provide a new or novel way at looking at things. Insights are not a new piece of information but a new way of interpreting existing information. They produce the effect of "I never looked at it that way before."

I was reading about the financial troubles of Iceland and noticed an interesting insight. "Leverage buys you a glimpse of a prosperity you haven't really earned." Hmmm, I never looked at it that way before.

I worked on the first Seaman's Furniture bankruptcy a number of years ago. I looked at the historical financial information and noted that when Seaman's was profitable in the past, virtually all of the profits had come from selling the customer receivables to finance companies. It occurred to me that Seaman's was not a furniture company. It was a finance company that generated consumer paper and sold it. This insight, which was initially scoffed at, became accepted and drove a very different view of the company going forward.

Insightful leaders are acute observers of others and maybe more importantly of themselves. Look for insights as you lead and explore the source of such insights. And, be an acute observer of what goes on around you.

Cheers, Mike

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