When a failed product launch or a high-profile delay happens, there’s a dark cloud of angst that moves fast through an organization. Tension can make employees apprehensive, and a lack of certainty and fear of failure can spread like wildfire. Will there be layoffs? Will I be blamed for this? What happens now?
Suddenly, people who often enjoy thinking creatively are nervous about their job security and hesitant to think outside the box. Teams come together for brainstorming, but high stakes conditions and uncertainty can prompt silence and fixed thinking. Apprehension can limit our problem-solving and idea-generating abilities, but understanding it as an obstacle can help us navigate around it.
This is precisely when knowing how to encourage and recognize insights — those aha moments where problems are solved and novel ideas are generated — matters most. Here’s how to generate more insights in yourself and others, and how to recognize and leverage them when they happen on your team.
Recognize the moment with ARIA
The pinnacle of team innovation is that “Eureka!” moment, full of harnessable momentum that can drive teams to new levels of performance. When insights occur, they generate an intense and memorable moment in the brain. The more intense the insight, the greater the motivational drive and more likely individuals will act on it. It’s true, insights can happen on their own, but they’re more likely to occur under ideal conditions. When teams are collaborating to solve a client problem or generate ideas for a product re-launch, The ARIA Model — which stands for awareness, reflection, illumination, and action — can help us understand how to recognize the emergence of insight in ourselves and others, and then create space in that moment to share.
As soon as we become aware of a problem or dilemma, this triggers a process in our brain that allows us to make sense of it. In fact, when new information is presented or a new problem appears, this is represented in our brains as a conflict between neural schemas — those we’ve created for previously used solutions and this new one. While sometimes problems have clear solutions based on previous success, or we’re able to access the perfect neural schema quickly, other times new solutions are harder to come by and integrating distantly-related neural maps is an additional part of the process. Whether or not the problem is your primary focus at the time, these neural comparisons are being made in the background and can eventually lead to a solution.
Pro tip: Don’t be shy. Invite others to the problem party. If only one person is aware, making others aware can broaden the possible solutions and even the number of people that could have the insight. Just be sure you frame it positively because being in a good mood increases the possibility of insight.
Once new information is presented, give yourself some distance from the problem. While this may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways to encourage insights is to stop thinking about a solution. In fact, we’re more likely to have insights during periods of downtime – which we often do wrong – so this is the perfect time to take a walk and enable those internally-focused thoughts while you just enjoy the cool breeze on your face. Research has revealed predictable patterns of brain activity that occur in these moments to quiet any new or distracting information. When we aren’t actively trying to solve the problem or we shift our focus internally and orient our thinking in a positive way, we reduce the louder noise in the brain, letting the quiet signals emerge.
Pro tip: If you’re in a pinch and reflection needs to happen in a room with others, keep an eye out for someone tilting their head or looking into the distance. Use this as an indicator to suggest that everyone turn their cameras off or take a quick stretch outside the room. The reflective process is critical to insight.
This is where the magic happens. At the moment of insight, new neural synapses are formed, which connect dots and make sense of the information we’ve gathered, and compared with a lifetime of memories. When these new neural schemas are made, recognition of how to solve the previously unsolvable problem is brought into the spotlight. If you’ve ever been in the shower and, seemingly out of nowhere, you figure out the thing you couldn’t for the life of you come up with when you needed it, that’s the “Aha!” illumination moment. Every bit of our focus goes to one emotion-filled spark of insight, and that emotion acts as glue, creating a temporary bond of problem to solution. This is the best time to share that insight with others.
Pro tip: When someone has that spark of illumination, the emotion accompanying the insight is likely obvious — some might say “written all over their face.” So if you recognize what’s happening, stop in your tracks mid-sentence if necessary, and ask them to share: “It looks like you have an idea. What is it?”
The powerful spark of insight provides us with an opportunity to act. The illumination is immediately followed by a surge of motivational drive, with its underpinnings in the engagement of motivational brain regions and a release of neurochemicals such as dopamine, inspiring us towards our goals. However, this energy is like inertia — it will stay there and turn to nothing unless moved. There can be a motivational drive to act on what we’ve suddenly and dramatically realized, but we have to tap into it in the moment.
Pro tip: If you’re on a walk when the insight sparks (or in the shower, as it often happens), make a quick statement to yourself about what you’ll do with it. If you’re in a team meeting, get the entire group to commit to next steps as soon as the insight is shared. This is how to move thinking forward, get unstuck, and put teams on the agile path to higher performance.
ARIA is your innovation and problem-solving power tool
Ideas that help solve problems and drive innovation are cornerstones of a psychologically safe team, and insight generation is critical for effective and agile teams, increasing the overall performance of the organization. So fear not; invite others to the problem party, then reflect, or maybe even forget about it for a bit. Remember to keep an eye out for insight in others and take action once they’ve shared. We’re all on the same team — and in the land of psychological safety, it’s always a good time for an insight and to share a wild idea.
Author: Jay Dixit