Playing to Win

Conventional wisdom about making better judgments and decisions consists of methods for reducing biases and errors. But this is a defensive strategy, playing not to lose. We can do better. By trying to foster insights and discoveries, we can play to win.

Second Thoughts

I have now had two years to reflect on my book Seeing What Others Don't. I am pleased with the book, but there are a number of ways I would change it if I had the chance. I would make a small but important modification in the model of insight, and I would add much more material about ways to foster insights.


We are supposed to make decisions based on the degree to which the competing options let us achieve our goals. But that's a myth. We often make tough choices based on showstoppers—issues that have little to do with our goals. We are opportunistic decision makers, not rational ones.

The Inside Story

An attempt to train social skills isn't as successful as expected, but the numbers don't make sense. To sort out what went wrong, you have to look beyond the statistics and try to imagine how the participants in the study were thinking.

The Insight Test

Our ability to create insights is critical for innovation and adaptation. Otherwise we would remain stuck in mental ruts formed over our lifetime. Insights let us see things in new ways. Many people, however, have the wrong ideas about insights. Here is a short test, only 12 items, to assess your knowledge of insights.

A Cure for Confusion

Breakdowns in Common Ground create pernicious confusion because people believe they are on the same wavelength even though they aren't. These breakdowns often arise when people toss around ambiguous phrases like "leadership problem." A two-step correction is to first spot these verbal land mines and second dismantle them using stories and examples.

Management by Discovery

We are told to define our goal ahead of time and build a plan to reach it, an approach sometimes called Management by Objectives. But that advice is impossible when we are in complex situations facing Wicked Problems. Instead, we need to use use Management by Discovery to gain insights about our goal as we try to reach it.

Avoiding Innovation Failures

Tempted by how-to books to adopt a business innovation? The underlying idea may be a good one. But misapplying a new idea or introducing it in the wrong place can absorb time and resources that could have been better spent. How could you discern which ideas might help you and which won’t? Ask this question: “For this to work here, what must be true?

Data versus Insights

Big Data, the use of massive amounts of data to reveal consumer preferences, offers many exciting possibilities. However, number crunching isn't the same as gaining insights. Big Data approaches usually rely on algorithms for capturing trends but insights arise when we spot anomalies that challenge the beliefs of the researchers and the data analysts.

Clinical Causality

The Causal Landscape is a method for escaping from simplistic, single-cause explanations for conditions such as depression. It depicts a wide array of contributing causes but then highlights the few causes that have the greatest impact and are easiest to change.

Causal Landscape 2.0

The Causal Landscape is a method for highlighting the causes worth addressing, avoiding simplistic single-cause explanations as well as overly complicated and exhaustive explanations. This expansion of the Causal Landscape should make it a more useful tool for diagnosing problems and for turning those diagnoses into action.


An important type of insights is to spot leverage points —ways to make things happen by using little effort to achieve powerful results. These kinds of discoveries fit into the Triple Path model of insight as a form of creative desperation, noticing implications that other people miss. These insights depend on reading the situation but also knowing ones own abilities.

Are You Pursuing A Pipedream?

Should we be advising young people to follow their dreams? The advice encourages self-indulgence, and may direct many graduates into unrealistic career paths that are poorly compensated. And the advice ignores the importance of luck. It may be better to learn to make the best of situations, although one-line slogans are too simplistic to guide career choices.


People who reach Transformation2 are not just following the doctor’s orders; they become adaptive experts and act as detectives, gaining insights into how to work around challenges in their own lives.

The Causal Landscape

Complex situations contain multiple causes yet we often want a simple 1-2 word explanation about why something happened. The causal landscape is a hybrid format that portrays the wide array of relevant causes, to help people escape from their single-cause mindset, but highlights the few causes that matter the most and can direct our actions.

Different Tactics for Making Discoveries

Each of the paths to insight — connections, contradictions, and creative desperation — works in different ways and relies on its own set of techniques. That's why there aren't any universal strategies for making discoveries. And it is why the pursuit of insights depends so heavily on using the appropriate methods.

Different Paths, Different Pitfalls

My research has uncovered three different pathways for gaining insights: making connections; spotting contradictions; and a creative desperation path in which we break free from flawed assumptions. Because each insight path is affected by different barriers, there is no universal remedy to free us from the mental shackles that stifle insights.

Scientific Insights

We think of scientists as testing hypothesis by setting up experimental and control groups and collecting data to support their hypotheses. But when that happens, scientists haven't learned much they didn't already know. Insights arise at all the other stages in the scientific method except the most conventional one of testing and supporting hypotheses.

Tough Teams

Effective teams handle stress by: building and repairing common ground, stating and updating goals, increasing predictability, clarifying roles, and using anticipatory thinking. Team decision-making under stress depends on the team's ability to adapt quickly to unexpected events.

Insight Rush

The forces that create insights are critical for shaking us out of comfortable routines. Without these forces, our thinking would grow more and more stereotyped and rigid. Therefore, the process of discovery gets stamped in: we experience an insight rush each time we make a discovery, motivating us to pursue more insights.


We often get angry and frustrated when another person refuses to grant our simple requests. But usually there's more to the story, if only we could find a way into that person's thought processes. A simple skeleton key suggests four avenues to investigate.

Hidden Assumptions

One of the greatest barriers to insight is holding on to a flawed assumption. But these assumptions are usually unconscious. We don't even know we're making them. So they're difficult to spot and to correct. Fortunately, we have a few strategies that can help us escape the trap of a flawed and unconscious assumption.

Painful Insights

Once a person has an insight there's no going back to the previous way of seeing the world. But perhaps there are exceptions, such as patients who gain insights in one session and then seem to 'lose' the insight the next time.


One way to escape fixation is to deliberately view events from a new angle. This entry describes five different scenarios we can play around with, or can use to help others: The Failure scenario, the Weak Signals scenario, the Turn-the-Tables scenario, the Successor scenario, and the Switch scenario.

Helping People Gain Insights

How can we inspire other people to make discoveries?

Insights on Demand

Can we get in the mood for breakthroughs?

Three Keys to Unlocking Great Insights

We can’t plan for insights but we can still increase our chances for gaining them. Some of the most effective tactics run opposite to our usual tendencies.

Beyond Perfection

Insights can take us beyond perfection by helping us discover what we're really after. Too often, people settle for perfection — the achievement of their initial goals. But insights let us identify richer goals than the ones we start out with. We gain enlightenment about our true needs.

Insights Vs. Organizations

Most organizations claim—and sincerely believe—that they want to increase insights and put them to use. We shouldn’t let that sincerity fool us. Organizations inadvertently suppress the insights of their workers and they do it in ways that are ingrained and invisible. Organizations stifle insights because of forces locked deep inside their DNA.

Cognitive Roadblocks

Even with the same information, some people gain an insight and others don't. There seem to be four main barriers that cut the chances of achieving an insight. Two of them are beyond our contol, but we may be able to do something about the other two.