“The capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.”
I’ve spent a great deal of my life finding, sharing, and scaling better insights in a variety of domains. I use these insights to improve human potential as well as to innovate across industries.
What is insight?
A dictionary definition might say insight is inner sight, mental vision, or wisdom.
Maybe Edward de Bono said it best when he said insight is a eureka moment, and he describes two kinds:
- The first kind of insight is where we short-circuit a longer path with a shorter one. Maybe one day, we find a shorter way home.
- The second is type of insight is like a eureka moment, where we gain a sudden flash of insight, and a new understanding.
With a flash of insight, there may be no new information, but according to de Bono, the whole thing suddenly ‘restructures itself to give a completely different pattern.’
With that in mind, lets dive deeper into better ways to define insight so we can generate and leverage better insight in work and life…
A Very Simple Definition of Insight
Insight is the creative juice that brings new ideas to light, and it’s the building block for innovation.
Insight is in the eye of the beholder, but I define insight in a very pragmatic way:
I also define insight as:
An intelligent conclusion
I find it helpful and useful to think of insights in terms of “ah has”, or “what did you learn that surprised you?” or “what did you learn that you didn’t expect?”
One person’s insight might be another person’s accepted belief or common sense, which is what makes insight personal and interesting. That said, in my experience, when people share their insight by sharing what surprised them or what they learned that they didn’t expect, they reveal far more valuable information and knowledge than simply sharing what people tend to already know.
Insight Definition According to Dictionaries
What is insight according to how dictionaries? Here are some example definitions of insight:
- Insight definition: The power or act of seeing into a situation: PENETRATION. The act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively (Meirum Webster)
- Insight definition: (The ability to have) a clear, deep, and sometimes sudden understanding of a complicated problem or situation. (Cambridge Dictionary)
- Insight definition: The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships (this is how Meirum Webster defines wisdom as insight).
- Insight definition: The perception produced by the ability to discover the true nature of a situation, especially by intuition (The Free Dictionary by Farlex)
- Insight definition: An understanding of what something is like. (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)
Insight Definition According to Wikipedia
I like Wikipedia’s definition of insight because it’s inclusive of related meanings, all under the umbrella of insight.
According to Wikimedia:
Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect within a particular context. The term insight can have several related meanings:
- a piece of information
- the act or result of understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively (called noesis in Greek)
- an introspection
- the power of acute observation and deduction, discernment, and perception, called intellection or noesis
- An understanding of cause and effect based on the identification of relationships and behaviors within a model, context, or scenario
Insight Definition According to Thrive
- An unrecognized fundamental human truth that reveals the inner nature of things
- A new way of viewing the world that causes us to reexamine existing conventions and challenge the status quo.
- A penetrating observation about human behavior that results in seeing consumers from a fresh perspective.
- A discovery about the underlying motivations that drive people’s actions.
I like how Thrive’s multi-pronged defintion of insight, but in particular, “a new way of viewing” that causes us to rexamine existing conventions.
In my mind that is what makes “insight” useful and actionable.
What Insight is Not
Sometimes the best way to know something better is to know what it is not.
I like how Thrive walks through what insight is not:
- Insight is not data. Data can take many forms, but we have to remember it is just that — data! Alone, it is not an insight, and it does not do your thinking for you.
- An observation is not an insight. The power of acute observation is an incredibly important part of creating new insight but still only one data point to consider and should never stand alone. They are facts that lack the “why” and the “motivation” behind a consumer’s behavior. Never stop short of the hard work involved during the process of insight definition of converting an astute observation in something more meaningful and actionable. Always get to the “why.”
- A customer wish or statement of need is not an insight. An Insight is not an articulated statement of need. Insights are less apparent, intangible, latent. A hidden truth that is the result of obsessive digging and sharp perceptivity. Anytime you hear ‘I want’ or ‘I need’ in a statement — step back and pause — as you probably need to dig deeper and understand the motivation, and the why behind ‘the want.’
I tend to think of insight in terms of an “above the line or below the line” model. Below the line to me is all the stuff that we typically and generally know about something. It’s the stuff you expect to see if somebody were to document a given topic.
It’s valuable. It’s useful.
But insight is “above the line” in terms of the surprising new knowledge that comes through wisdom, experience, and knowledge applied.
Why Do We Care About Insight?
Why do we care about insight?
Because we can solve problems better and faster, and we can create new solutions or expand the realm of possibility.
Insight is the creative juice that authors, artists, linchpins, entrepreneurs, teachers, trusted advisers, and other creative geniuses flow and draw from.
Insight is the backbone of innovation and the art of the possible.
Insight breaks the mold, and forges new pathways in the mind, leading to deeper learning.
Our “ah-ha” moments enlighten us.
In the book, The Four Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking, Rowan Gibson explains insight in pragmatic ways.
What is Insight? Insight is a New and Penetrating Understanding
Like a stroke of genius, insight helps us see things in a brand new way. Sometimes, it’s like somebody defrosted our windows. Other times, it’s like somebody took our blinders off that we didn’t even know we had on.
“Look up the word insight in a dictionary, and you will find it defined as ‘a new and penetrating understanding about a particular situation or a problem.’
It’s about grasping of discerning the true nature of something; suddenly noticing or perceiving a matter clearly or deeply; literally seeing into a situation (hence in-sight) in a way that sheds light on or helps solve a problem.”
What is Insight? Insight is a Striking Realization
Whether it’s a new angle, new information, or a new connection, insight helps us connect the dots in new and more meaningful ways.
“Thus, I like to think of an insight as a striking realization that fundamentally changes our thinking.
It can come from an illuminating new piece of information that either prompts us to look at an issue from a completely different angle, or that connects with existing information in a way that brings us a startling new conclusion.
But sometimes these novel thoughts or realizations just seem to surface in our heads quite suddenly without the recent addition of any new information, particularly after a period in which the unconscious mind has been incubating previous knowledge, information, interests, and experiences.”
Insight Surprises and Inspires You
The power of insight is the power to inspire us.
Whether it means creating new windows or breaking down walls, or simply taking the balcony view, insight can surprise us, and take our understanding to new depths or higher levels.
“Simply put, an insight is something you previously didn’t know, or didn’t yet think about, that has the power to surprise and inspire you.
And what role do such insights play in the creative thinking process?
As Scott Gray, head of planning at digital marketing agency Quirk, puts it, ‘Insights are to an idea what fire-lighters are to fire. They represent the best way of generating ideas that inspire success.’”
Insight Redirects Your Thinking
When you change what you see, it changes your thinking. Insight changes what we see, and what we can see, and therefore, what we can think.
“In their article, Unleashing Hidden Insights, Marco Vriens (from Microsoft) and Rogier Verhult (from LinkedIn) define an insight as ‘a thought, fact, combination of facts, data and/or analysis of data that induces meaning and furthers understanding of a situation or issue.’
It is something that has the potential of ‘redirecting the thinking about that situation or issue, which then in turn has the potential of benefiting the business.’”
Insight Reveals Profound Truths
Whether it was there all along, and now it’s revealed, or it was forging a better looking glass, insight can help us see evergreen truths, or deeper truths well beyond what we might see today.
“Executives at Mars, the global chocolate manufacturer, refer to the process of discovering insights as ‘peeling back the onion,’ in the sense that it is about looking beyond the obvious by methodically removing successive layers of shallow, superficial information in an effort to drill down to the deeper and more profound truths about something.’”
Insight Turns the Lights On
Just when you thought there were 9 planets, we found out there was 10.
And then there was 8.
Insight helps us see things better.
And sometimes, brighter.
“In The Art of Insight, Charles Kiefer and Malcolm Constable wrote that insights ‘result in a dramatically improved understanding of a situation or problem such that we see things more deeply and more accurately than before.’
That’s why Jeremy Bullmore, member of the Advisory Board at WPP, the multinational marketing communications company says that ‘a good insight is like a refrigerator, because the more you look into it, a light comes on.’”
Insight Shifts Our Mental Perspective
When the light bulb goes off, and you see things in a completely different light, insight helps you see problems and solutions from a new mental model.
The mental model that you work from can limit or accelerate your breakthroughs.
“A great example of an illuminating insight is Professor Theodore Levitt’s famous remark: ‘People don’t want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.’
For his marketing students at Harvard Business School 40 or 50 years ago, this fresh understanding represented a drastic shift in mental perspective.
It immediately altered their perception by allowing them to see the marketing challenge in a completely different light.”
Insight is a many splendored thing.
Insight is accessible to all of us.
What will you do with yours?