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Instigate Insight: A Constructive Conspiracy


Guest Post by Karen Voloshin, DesignArounds

In their book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want two of my favorite colleagues Julie Winkle Giulioni and Beverly Kaye stress that  compelling conversation is at the heart of  career development that moves and inspires others. They go on to introduce us to three kinds of conversations aimed at growth and development. The first are hindsight-conversations that help others look backward and inward to determine who they are, where they’ve been, what they love, and where they excel. The second are foresight-conversations that keep employees looking forward and outward toward changes, trends, and the ever-evolving big picture.  The third, and one that intrigues me the most, are insight-conversations, where hindsight and foresight collide into moments of, often sudden, understanding about one’s unique definition of career success and how to move toward it. Those moments where it all clicks, connects, and makes perfect sense.

We’ve all experienced moments of insight…maybe you’ve called them “eureka” or “aha” moments, or the moment when “the light bulb went on.” Fascinating work in neuroscience by people like Mark Beeman, Jonathan Schooler and David Rock reveals how the brain generates insights and what that means for leaders:

  • We tend to notice insights when our overall brain activity is relatively low. This happens when we are exerting less mental effort, focusing on something repetitive, or are more relaxed (like when we first wake up I the morning…assuming you are not a raging insomniac like me).
  • Our attention constantly flips between being externally and internally focused.  When people have insights they are focused inward, letting their mind wander like a daydream, not focused externally on what they are trying to figure out.
  • It turns out that the non-conscious processing resources in our brains are greater than our conscious ones.

So given those factors what can we do to instigate moments of insight for ourselves and others?  Here are five ways  to increase the chances that insights will occur.

  1. Stop trying to force insights or think they are going to strike when it’s convenient or when you want them to, e. g. during a pre-scheduled career conversation. No insight will happen before its time.
  2. Do whatever you can to reduce feelings of pressure or stress during career discussions. Insights occur more frequently in a relaxed mental state.  So listen, demonstrate patience, don’t judge or project your own expectations. Let the employee drive and enjoy being in the passenger seat.
  3. Pose provocative questions without the expectation of an immediate answer.  Encourage soak time, daydreaming, and keeping notes or a journal to capture insights when they occur.
  4. Think about the venue. How about a conversation while you walk, or while doing something repetitive and mundane like stuffing envelopes or shredding? Seriously.  Insights are more likely and you’ll help out at the same time.
  5. Let the insight initiate the conversation versus the other way around. Neuroscience also tells us that moments of insight bring a heightened state of motivation with them because of amped up chemicals in the brain. This more intense energetic state is relatively short lived. So encourage employees to come find you when they have an “aha” moment. In day-to-day interactions pay attention and begin to notice an insight brewing and seize the moment to tease it out and discuss it.

What are you doing to instigate insights? Let the question incubate and let us know about your flashes of brilliance. We’d love to hear.


  1. Karen
    Thank you for this wonderful post. As a coach I completely support the points made here. My primary work is around helping my clients get insights or as David Rock says ” help improve the quality of their thinking”. I believe active listening, empathy, patience, keeping the other person focused on ‘what can be’ and powerful questions are some great ways to enable rich insights.

    • You are most welcome and thanks so much for taking the time to comment. As a coach myself I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying. Let’s continue to help leaders to do the same. By taking it a little slower and not rushing or trying to force insights to occur more will happen not less. Ironic isn’t it?

  2. I participated in an Insight activity facilitated by Julie and Bev at ASTD-LA over a year ago. I seem to have lost the ring of color coded papers with questions that helped with insight into career development areas of interest. I’m wondering where I could find the details of that activity? I’d like to use it for an upcoming conference I am designing and facilitating, if that’s ok?


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