30 July 2014

Take off the blinders!

I have come to admire and appreciate the work of Gary Klein, PhD, who authored the book, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights (2013, Public Affairs, NY). Klein notes that most performance-improvement models involve decreasing errors and uncertainties through standards, controls, documentation, checklists, reviews, rigors, and procedures. Sound familiar?

Insights, on the other hand, come from grappling with curiosity about contradictions, connections, and coincidences. Klein posits that an insight is an unexpected shift to a better story for understanding how things work and can lead to changes in how we understand, act, feel, and desire. Wrestling with contradictions and connections to gain insight is often catalyzed by creative desperation—when the need to reconcile opposite or contrary experiences or understandings results in the creation of something new or innovative that better solves a problem or helps reconcile competing beliefs or frames of reference.

How often do you see things that others don't?
Failure to gain insight is often characterized by lack of experience, a passive stance, concrete reasoning, and adherence to flawed beliefs. Gaining insights requires experience, an active stance, playful reasoning, and a willingness to question long-held assumptions and beliefs.

How often do you see things that others don’t? How often do you try to make sense of contradictions, connections, and competing ideas, of understandings, stances, or frames of reference in your professional practice? To what degree do you apply curiosity and creativity to foster insight development in yourself and others? Do you think cultivation of insight is important to your education, practice, and research leadership skill set? How do you foster insight development with your peers, colleagues or protégés?

As I studied and learned more about Klein’s theory and ideas about insight formation, I connected his work and ideas with those of Barry Johnson, PhD, father of polarity management. I realized polarity management is a key leadership skill set that assists individuals, groups, teams, and organizations in defining and working through contradictions, connections, and polarities. Unpacking and working through polarities oftentimes leads to development of insight.

Bonnie Wesorick, recipient of the 2011 Edith Moore Copeland Award for Excellence in Creativity—a Founders Award presented by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International—provides an excellent overview of polarity management, as well as principles and leadership practices needed in today’s health care environments. Consider identifying polarities in your work context, and then experiment with managing those polarities, based on the strategies and techniques she describes. [Learn more: “Bonnie Wesorick: Nurse on a mission,” and “Bonnie Wesorick: Putting the care back in health care.”]

Improving performance, decreasing errors, and establishing standards and controls are necessary in health care today. However, each of us should be curious about and sensitive to contradictions, connections, and coincidences we experience. Subjecting those experiences to playful reasoning and polarity management can lead to wisdom insights and a better story for understanding how things work. Decide now to learn more about polarity management. Maybe you will begin gaining some wisdom insights and see what others don’t.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.