Psychologist Gary Klein explains how to train your brain by thinking like an expert (Wired UK)


Gary Klein is one of most influential psychologists today. In his 2013 book, “Seeing What Others Don’t”, he postulated a model categorising all types of insights and how we can reach them. His new company, Shadowbox, provides cognitive training based on his research. WIRED’s science editor, João Medeiros, spoke to Klein about the nature of insights, entrepreneurship and how he is training people to be experts.

What motivated you, as a scientist, to study insights?

I used to give talks on decision-making. I created this diagram with two arrows to explain decisions: the down arrow is about reducing errors and the up arrow is about increasing insights. people would normally say my organisation is all about the down arrow, what can you tell me about the up arrow? And I had a simple one word answer for them, nothing. I didn’t know anything about insights and that I was stupid enough to admit it.

According to your model for insights they can have three triggers: contradictions, where you find an inconsistency in they way you understand something; connections, from coincidences, to spotting implications; and creative desperation, escaping an impasse. How did you go about creating this model?

I studied over 120 cases of insights and put them into different categories. The literature focuses on these impasse problems because those are things that you can set up and run in an hour for the laboratory and some people are aware of connection insights because that’s the most common form and no one has talked about contradiction insights.

Are there certain personality traits that lead people to have more insights?

People who are concrete thinkers aren’t going to come up with the insights. People who are speculative, who engage in hypothetical as opposed to concrete reasoning, they’re the ones that are likely to generate insights — that’s the personality difference. Curiosity is something that I’ve been wondering about recently, because curiosity seems to be one of the primary engines for insight.

How is curiosity related to motivation? What’s the difference, say, between an entrepreneur who just wants to make millions and disrupt markets, versus an entrepreneur who just loves materialising ideas and creating a company around that, irrespective of the external rewards that might come with it?

The entrepreneurs who seem to have succeeded the most are the ones who never intended to be entrepreneurs. Take Mark Zuckerberg. He didn’t say that he wanted to start a billion dollar business. He was not only interested in programming but also social psychology and then all of a sudden he saw that this cool thing he built had real potential so he turned it into a business.

Page and Brin with Google discovered this odd thing about the search engine, they played around with it and as soon as they got it to an original point they tried to sell it. And they were forced to become entrepreneurs because they couldn’t find anyone to buy it.

It seems like a lot of entrepreneurs are doing it backwards saying that if I want to be an entrepreneur now I need an idea that will excite investors and be reasonably safe. The best entrepreneurs today first got captured by an idea and that leads them to become entrepreneurs.

Everybody has insights, but doing something about it is difficult. What’s your take on that?

Pretend that you have less time than you actually do. Companies like Kodak that were swept aside by digital cameras, they actually had the first patent for the digital camera. Increase the sense of urgency so that people don’t dawdle. I would also change the criterion for making a shift. People say when everything lines up, and it’s clearer that this is something I have to do, then I’ll make the change. Well, that’s normally too late. Colin Powell once said if I’m less than 40 percent confident, I’d better wait, if I’m more than 70 percent confident I’ve waited too long.

What are you working on now?

We’ve started another company called Shadowbox and the idea is that we can train you by letting you see the world through the eyes of experts.

The way it works is set up a a challenging scenario, you go through the scenario, either from video or text, we read through this scenario, then we stop the action and give you options on how to react to the particular scenario, rank them best to worst and then write down your rationale. Then we compare your decisions with the decisions made by a panel of experts, which did exactly the same test as you. So you’re shadowing these experts.

We are doing projects with the US military, with child protective workers, social workers, people in control room of a petrochemical plant, nurses and police departments.

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6 October 2015 | 12:03 pm – Source:


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