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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Seeking Insights: Seeing What Others Don't in Sports

Given the advances in technology and the sheer volume of data now collected in sport, finding insights in this information has taken on greater emphasis for sports scientists.

Looking just at English football, Man United has a Director of Football Insights and Innovation, Man City a Head of Football Insights, while the FA has an entire Insights Department, as well as a podcast named DNA Insights, to name just a few. And of course, insights takes pride of place in my own company name, Global Performance Insights!

But what do we actually means by insights? And can we be more intentional in how we come across them? Psychologist Gary Klein thinks so! In this blog post, we'll discuss his book "Seeing What Others Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights".

Defining Insights

In the book, Klein explores insights and how they relate to our understanding of the world. The author presents a new model of insights, which is a departure from the traditional four-stage model of preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification proposed by Wallas in the Art of Thought. Klein's case against this incumbent model is built on observations that insights often come unexpectedly, and deliberate preparation does not guarantee success.

Klein's definition of insights is "an unexpected shift to a better story". They are discontinuous discoveries; they don't evolve naturally from our previous beliefs but shift us toward a new story, a new set of beliefs that are more accurate, comprehensive, and useful. We've previously talked about the importance of updating your beliefs in science and so the search for insights seems paramount.

Seeking Insights

Klein presents his triple path model of insight, built around paths of contradiction, connections (that includes connection, coincidence, and curiosity), and creative desperation.

  • Contradiction involves a openness and reaction to inconsistencies, using a sceptical mindset that helps us to doubt findings. He illustrates this with the same story previous discussed on my own post about doubt; John Snow and the London cholera outbreak of 1854.

  • Connections involve combining new information with existing knowledge to form a new idea.

  • Coincidences are chance events that may provide early warnings about new patterns, BUT we must test coincidences before giving them credence as many are spurious.

  • Curiosities are sparked by a single event or observation that leads us to explore further.

  • Creative desperation is when we're back into a corner and need to re-examine an assumption to try to overturn it. Here, Klein frequently uses the incredible story of firefighter Wagner Dodge, who was the first person to create an escape fire to save himself when running uphill ahead of a raging forest fire.

The three paths that lead to insights; contradiction, connection, and creative desperation, shown in an infographic.
Source: Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights

Conversely, insight acquisition can be obstructed by a number of factors. This can occur when individuals are gripped by a flawed belief and ignore, explain away, or distort evidence that could lead to insights. This is yet another example of the dark side of expertise, as discussed in my earlier post on cognitive entrenchment.

A lack of experience can also hinder insights, as it is not just about having the necessary knowledge but also "how we use our knowledge to tune our attention." In addition, having a passive stance (as opposed to an active stance) and/or using concrete reasoning (rather than playful reasoning) can also limit the potential for insights.

Fostering Insights

Helping Ourselves:

To foster insights within ourselves, we need to cultivate a mindset of curiosity and openness. Here are some strategies to consider:

a) Notice Anomalies: Pay attention to unexpected occurrences or information that challenge your beliefs. Embrace surprises and take them seriously, even if they seem contradictory. This shift from consternation to curiosity is the first step toward unlocking new insights.

b) Increase Exposure to Novel Ideas: Seek out diverse experiences and expose yourself to unfamiliar possibilities. Engage in activities that expand your horizons and introduce you to different perspectives. This exposure to new ideas can ignite connections and spark innovative thinking.

c) Correct Flawed Beliefs: Engage in critical thinking by systematically analysing evidence and questioning assumptions. Challenge your own beliefs and be willing to revise them based on logical reasoning and a thorough review of the available information. This process helps uncover flawed beliefs and paves the way for new insights.

Unsurprisingly, these strategies reflect many of those presented by Adam Grant in his book, Think Again, as we discussed in this post on embracing rethinking.

Helping Others:

Fostering insights in others requires a delicate approach that combines empathy and guidance. Here's how you can assist others in their journey of discovery:

a) Diagnose Flawed Thinking: Become a detective of flawed beliefs in others. By actively listening and observing, you can identify gaps in their reasoning or misconceptions. However, we need to be cautious given the effects of belief in sports. It's also critical to offer assistance without imposing unsolicited advice. Instead, create an environment that allows individuals to make their own discoveries and develop new ways of thinking.

b) Translate Insights into Action: Insights are only valuable if they lead to meaningful action. Help others bridge the gap between knowledge and behaviour change. Guide them in finding practical ways to apply their newfound insights and facilitate their transition into new ways of behaving. Indeed, it is these translation skills that I believe critical to the sports science practitioner.

In conclusion, insights are powerful moments of discovery that can transform our perspectives. They allow us to see what others don't and pave the way for innovative ideas and breakthroughs. This can be critical to developing a competitive advantage in sport, or helping an athlete overcome a hurdle. Understanding the triggers, strategies, and obstacles to insights can help practitioners intentionally foster insights in their data and their setting. By keeping a playful and curious mindset, sports scientists can stay true to the scientific method while potentially uncovering new insights in the support of high-performance athletes.


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