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The Insight Imperative

July 22, 2015 // Erik Nelson

Insight explains something that was previously unexplainable. It is not something that is invented; it is a discovery that leads to a deeper understanding of something. For example, Newton did not invent gravity, but his insight helped explain it.

Insight is required for any problem where the solution is not obvious. And healthcare, as it reaches the tipping point with value-based pay, needs more insight than ever before. Every leader is going to need insight to reduce costs, improve care, prioritize projects, and optimize every process within their organization in an entirely new way.

Insight Requires Knowledge and Intuition  

Insight is not produced out of thin air—it requires an existing knowledge base. This is why some of the best clinical inventions in healthcare come from clinicians who have deep knowledge and experience in a relevant area. It also explains why most of us will never have insight into an unsolved problem in theoretical physics.

Knowledge and experience alone cannot produce insight. But they do serve as the raw material that our minds use to make connections between seemingly disparate things. Intuition—the ability to acquire knowledge without using conscious logical reasoning—is what turns our knowledge and experience into meaningful insight. And insight can be the starting point of something significant.

Achieving Insight

Insight can, and often does, occur by accident. But you can also intentionally pursue it. When tackling problems where you do not yet know the solution, you can achieve insight by taking the following steps:

  1. Leverage the experience of others. If you are working on a clinical operations problem, talk to the nurses, physicians, and support staff that has been working in that environment for 20 years. You don’t have to know everything; you just have to know how to draw from the deep body of knowledge that exists around you.
  2. Encourage experimentation. Safely test new concepts and create your own knowledge base on emerging topics. Mistakes often provide much-needed insight into solving a problem. In fact, some of the greatest eureka moments in medicine, including the discovery of X-rays and penicillin, were the results of accidents and “failed” experiments.
  3. Pursue creative analysis and modeling. Logical reasoning is not going to produce insight. Gathering a rich set of information from multiple, non-traditional sources, however, can give you the basis from which you can make new connections. Test these new connections by creating models that allow you to validate them with a team of knowledgeable experts. When possible, add flexible analytical tools to these models that will allow you to quantify the outcome and test multiple scenarios.


Insight Is Only the Beginning

Meaningful insight is critical to solving strategic problems, but it is often just the first step of many. Einstein had an “ah ha” moment that provided insight into his general theory of relativity, but it took him eight years to work through the mathematical details.

Healthcare is at a point now where insight is needed to help guide the next decade of work. And whether you are a CEO, manager or supervisor, creating an environment and culture that fosters insight can result in unimaginable returns.