Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights

by Gary Klein

Pub Date: June 25th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61039-251-8
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Experimental psychologist Klein (Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, 2009, etc.) examines the transformative role of creative insight.

The author recounts a story that a policeman told him about a routine patrol, during which his partner noticed the driver of a new BMW flicking cigarette ash on the car's upholstery and immediately realized that the vehicle was stolen. Klein decided to explore the mechanism behind such aha moments. Seeking to discover “how people come up with unexpected insights in their work,” he began to search for clues by systematically collecting human interest stories. These include accounts by firefighters who survived life-threatening situations by improvising, Dr. Michael Gottlieb's realization that the epidemic killing young gay men was an immune disorder, and financial analyst Harry Markopolos' recognition that Bernie Madoff had to be a crook. Two decades earlier, Klein was one of the pioneers in the field of “naturalist decision making, which studies the way people think in natural settings,” as opposed to contrived laboratory experiments. He used the same method to probe the creative process, and he shares a fascinating array of illustrative examples of creativity—e.g., Darwin's recognition of the role of natural selection and Daniel Boone's rescue of his daughter from Indian kidnappers. After painstaking analysis, Klein identified the three primary drivers: making unexpected connections (the policeman's observation), identifying contradictions (Markopolos smelled a fraud) and being driven to despair by an unresolved problem (Gottlieb's dying HIV patients). In each case, the bottom line was freedom to substitute out-of-the-box thinking for a preconceived, systematic approach and the willingness to take the risk of making errors.

Intriguing findings that should play a transformative role, not only in the field of psychology, but also in corporate boardrooms.