Where do insights come from? That’s the subject of Gary Klein’s book “Seeing what others don’t”. It’s also the question I’ve been pondering on.
One of the jobs I held was titled “Insights Analyst” – a role I felt unsuited for at the time. I had about zero experience in the telecommunications industry in this country. I had little understanding about the business climate in the country as a new migrant. I also had no idea about what was expected of this role – and it appears, neither did the good folks in HR who crafted that job description!
And yet, I have remained in this industry for 13 years. The Occam’s razor explanation is that I’m so poorly skilled that no other industry or company will hire me. The story I tell myself is because I enjoy it. It’s got the right blend of challenges, opportunities, people, technology, and personal purpose that works for me.
Challenges & opportunities: Do a field visit with an expert or field technician from the industry, ask questions, and listen. The pits and pipes and equipment in the ground or hanging from the poles take on a magical appearance when I do. I’ve learnt the history of telecommunications, looked at the equipment from the very early days of the industry, understood the scale of the physical challenges, empathised with the scale of the emotional challenges of poorly paid yet invaluable technicians, listened to their ideas for improvement, and where I could, translated them so that the ‘leaders’ recognise the opportunities to save money. The relationships I’ve built through these continue to this day. When I don’t understand something, or want to learn more, I have a network (pun intended) to ask questions and learn from.
Technology: My weakest area as a non-engineer. I don’t know the maths, or the physics, or the chemistry involved in how the network operates. Yes, there is chemistry involved: cables rot too. Technology spans a wide range of things: the hardware that does magical things with data, the fibre that hauls this data at speeds of light, and the software can enables all sorts of weird and wonderful things to be done with it. This is even before what users do with the technology. In industry parlance, Layer 2 of the OSI model, is as fascinating to me as the software that enables everything at and above that Layer.
People: are the driving force for me. I’ve met so many experts in this field that work alongside me. I’ve learnt far more about the industry, the technology, the challenges and the opportunities than I ever could have done from either a university course or an apprenticeship. I’ve been introduced to people in ancillary fields that I’d have never met otherwise through these people. Many of these folks have become dear friends, folks who’s opinions I ask and value on subjects other than the industry or the work.
So insights. Where do they come from? Gary Klein suggests it’s from keeping an open, curious mind. It’s from being able to be shocked out of our assumptions. It is in building new connections between things not usually connected. It’s in observing and identifying anomalies that don’t fit our belief systems. Insights are disruptive. They don’t allow you to see the world the same as you did before.