"...real change happens when people see things they have not seen before..."

David Rock, 2009

. One of the best ways to achieve change is to have an insight. For this to occur, the brain needs to be quiet.

"...How, then, would you go about facilitating change? The impact of mental maps suggest that one way to start is by cultivating moments of insight. Large-scale behaviour change requires a large-scale change in mental maps. This in turn requires some kind of event or experience that allows people to devote themselves, in effect, to change attitudes and expectations more quickly and dramatically than they normally would..."

David Rock et al, 2006

. It has been found that a complex set of new connections is created at a moment of insight and this understanding has the potential to enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain's resistance to change, ie

"...sudden burst of high-frequency 40Hz oscillations (gamma waves) in the brain appearing just prior to moments of insight. This oscillation is conducive to creating links across many parts of the brain.......right anterior superior temporal gyrus being activated. This part of the brain is involved in perceiving and processing music, spatial and structural relations (such as those in a building or painting), and other complex aspects..."

David Rock et al, 2006

. Furthermore, when people have an "insight", immediately their facial expression changes, ie it appears to light up!!!!!!

  • The brain can get into a rut in its thinking: impasse phenomenon. The best way to handle this is to put the brain into neutral to reduce activation of the wrong responses. Do anything to reduce anxiety, such as have some fun, take a break, do something interesting, etc.
  • Having insights involves recognizing subtle signals and allowing loose connections to be made. This requires a quiet mind, with minimal electrical activity. Focus on connections between information rather than drilling down into a problem; look at patterns and links at a high level rather than focusing on detail. Simplify problems to their key features; allow yourself to reflect at a higher level; watch for the subtle connections preceding insight; stop and focus on insights when they occur
  • Insights occur more frequently, when we are relaxed and happy.
  • The right hemisphere of the brain is involved in connections between information (more than specific data) which contributes strongly to insight.
  • The novelty of an insight pushes up dopamine levels.
  • An activity can expand to fill the time available
  • Priming refers to our remembering words, concepts, etc that we have seen recently that can automatically influence our actions subconsciously.
  • To work with our brain, ie

- schedule work when it is easiest

- clear the mind to reduce amount of information stored

- reduce external distractions

- veto internal distractions

. Sometimes the pre-frontal cortex can restrict creative thinking. This is called an "impasse". Creativity involves getting past the impasse!!

. As more workers are now knowledge workers, required to put information together in a novel way, creativity is becoming more important. Most of the day, people are executing codified routines stored in the basal ganglia. When a new problem arises that needs creative thinking; initially the mind compares the problem with previous problems to find a solution. More people

" into brand-new problems, problems with no procedures to follow, no obvious answers, and where solutions from similar situations don't work..."

David Rock, 2009

. This requires an insight to handle the impasse.

"...The insight experience is characterized by a lack of logical progression to the solution......the solution comes to you suddenly and is surprising have a great deal of confidence in it......the brain is processing the problem below the level of conscious awareness......unconscious processing...... a possible strategy for increasing creativity..."

David Rock, 2009

. The application of prior experience, detailed thinking and being too familiar with the issue can limit creativity. But short-circuiting this reference to experience allows for creativity and the chance of an insight. You need to do something totally different and then return to the problem, ie a fresh approach.

. The part of the brain involved in insights is the right anterior temporal lobe. This is the area where "big picture thinking" occurs.

. Just before the insight, there is a sudden and prolonged increase in alpha band activity over the right occipital lobe (this processes visual information coming into the brain. At the same time, you need to decrease the focus on other parts of the brain for the insight to develop, ie you need cognitive control.

. There is a strong correlation between emotional states and insights. Increased happiness increases the chance of an insight, while increasing anxiety decreases the likelihood. When we feel anxious, there is too much activity in the brain to develop the insight. This shows the importance for fun and play in the work environment to increase the quality of ideas.

. It is instructive to know that just before an insight, the medial prefrontal cortex becomes active. This part of the default network works against insights as it increases awareness of your experiences.

"...people who have insights don't have better vision, they are not more determined to find a solution, they don't focus harder on the problem, and they are not necessarily geniuses..."

David Rock, 2009

. The people who have more insights are those who are more aware of their internal experiences, ie they observe their own thinking and can change how they think, ie have good cognitive control.

. ARIA framework for insight

A = Awareness (focus lightly on impasse, ie minimize focus of prefrontal cortex, eg simplify the problem)

R = Reflection (review your thinking process; keep way from detail ‐ take a big picture approach. Use the right hemisphere of the brain)

I = Insight (involves a burst of gamma band brain waves that shows that different parts of the brain are communicating. It brings on a rush of adrenaline and dopamine.)

A = Action (a short burst of energy results)

. Insights are about getting the prefrontal cortex out of the way and allowing other signals to be "heard". We have a unique capacity to create an internal representation of the outside world in your brain, eg networks or maps. There are 2 main sets of maps, ie

i) default network (involves medial prefrontal cortex, hippocampus ‐ memory region; it is involved in planning (goal-setting, strategizing, etc), dreaming and ruminating; sometimes it is called the narrative circuitry (you take in information from the outside world, filter though your experience and add interpretations)

ii) direct experience (involves insula ‐ relates to perceiving bodily sensations; anterior cingulated cortex ‐ central to detecting errors and switching attention; you are taking in the information at "face value", ie not thinking about it

. These two maps cannot work simultaneously. Direct experience helps us to collect more information which gives us more options; we are less imprisoned by the past, habits, expectations, etc, and more able to respond to events as they happen.

  • Using your brain to find large amounts of history and detail does not quieten the brain. A sense of peace ie low level of electrical activity is required to encourage learning. This allows people to notice subtle internal signals. Remember that anxiety makes people's views narrower and the brain noisier

. Insights happen when people think globally and widely, rather than focusing on the details

  • Another way to help people develop insights is to simplify a problem in as few words as possible. This helps reduce the load on the prefrontal cortex. Remember

"...real change happens when people see things they have not seen before..."

David Rock, 2009

One of the best ways to do this is to have an insight.

. Using questions about solutions, not problems, is a good way to shift attention/focus. An example around improving customer service would include

"...What is one thing you have done that has made a customer delighted in the past?

What did you do differently that made the customer happy?

What would it take for you to do this more often?..."

David Rock, 2009

These questions will help people arrive at their own insights and gets people focused on improving customer service.

. Helping people to develop insights by focusing on their own subtle internal thoughts, without getting into too much detail, is a better way of improving performance than providing feedback, etc.. This can include focusing on outcomes.

. Do not write things down insights

"...When you write down thoughts, your chances of having a flash of insight you need in order to come up with a solution are significantly impaired...... With a logic problem, asking people to explain themselves doesn't impair their ability to come up the answers. In some cases......It may help. But problems that require a flash of insight operate by different rules..."

Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

"... It's the same......paralysis through analysis...... When you start becoming reflective about the process, it undermines your ability. You lose the flow. There are certain kinds of fluid, intuitive, non-verbal kinds of experience that are vulnerable to this process..."

Jonathan W Schooler as quoted in Malcolm Gladwell, 2005

. As human beings we are capable of extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct but all these abilities are incredibly fragile.

. Remember: some problems require a logical, rational, conscious approach, ie focus on the mechanics and the process (a reductionist focus); while others require insights, ie holistic approach.

Creative insights

Creative insights have the perverse tendency to come when we are not working at all and relaxing the brain. The more we focus, the less likely we are to have creative thoughts.

Creativity is linked with divergent thinking that requires mental exploration of "thinking outside the box", ie different approach where there is more than one possible answer. A way to do this is to have downtime/playtime, ie relax the brain. This allows the brain to run through many combinations of ideas until a good one emerges.

Most people in our society are time-poor and have little or no downtime. Until recently, people had more chance of down time, eg cigarette break, tea/coffee break, daydreaming, etc. Additionally in Western culture wasting time is not considered a good thing. But in order to maximise peoples talents, we need to have downtime.

"... It's when we look idle that our brains are most likely to perform miracles..."
Faye Flam 2019

To be creative you need to have the ability to overcome your preference for prior knowledge and experience, ie to see how to do something differently from the way it has been done in the past.

It interesting that people with ADHD are better with creative thinking than those free of ADHD (Faye Flam, 2019)

An example of a person having an insight and the power of the unconscious mind

"...Sometimes I become so immersed in a very difficult mathematical problem that takes over my life. I have tried many different attack strategies......after some months my brain must have become so hardwired into the indices of the problem that it continued to function through my subconscious while I was asleep. On several nights I awoke multiple times, and each time my mind was cruising through the logical arguments needed for the proof......making notes of these steps......eventually, one night, after several hours developing all the steps sketched in my notes, I obtained a complete proof..."
Cheryl Praeger (recipient of the 2019 Australian Prime Minister's Prize for Science) 2019

Dance of Insight


Summary on Insights

. For insights/brainwaves to occur

- the brain needs to be "quiet" (reduce electrical activity) beforehand by reflection, etc

- think big picture (don't focus too much on detail)

- humour is important

- need to increase positive emotions

- reduce anxiety as it makes people's views narrower and the brain noisier

- simplify a problem in as few words as possible, ie less is more (this helps reduce the load on the prefrontal cortex)

- encourage people to think about their own thinking better, ie to see things they have not seen before


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