Our answer to Secret Santa dilemmas

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Published by
Jan Hills
December 6, 2016

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One big benefit of not working for a large corporate is no Christmas party and no Secret Santa gift to buy. Yes, I am a bit of a humbug where these Christmas traditions are concerned but Secret Santa gifts were always a big problem for me. I seemed to get the most difficult person to buy for from the draw; either they were the ultra-trendy young IT expert or the boss who had everything and certainly wouldn’t like anything that was within the budget. Then there was the concern that people would think I was just plain boring if I got a conventional ‘useful’ present like socks or chocolate. Oh dear. I’m sure I’m not the only one who needs an ‘aha moment’ on gift ideas.
To try and solve this, I’ve been reading a new book by Gary Klein on creating insight called ‘Seeing What Others Don’t’. In case you don’t know him he has written brilliant books on intuition. He is easy to read and tells lots of stories to illustrate his points.

Klein searched how insight happens and how to get more of it by analysing the experiences and stories of people who had solved problems through insight. Below are some methods you can try out to create insight into what to buy for your Secret Santa gift.  Alternatively click here to  flick to the bottom of the article for our special offer which will solve your problem.

But back to the science

Gary Klein believes insights come in several forms. His model has three types of insight:

  • The first is the impasse type, which he calls ‘creative desperation’. ( A good description for Secret Santa) Klein says this is the most common method for studying insight. This is when you are completely stuck on what to buy for your Secret Santa partner and it is the day of the party; you are frantically busy and only have 30 minutes to rush to the shops.
  • The second type of insight is ‘noticing a contradiction’ or something that doesn’t make sense. Hequotes the example of a young driver flicking ash in a brand new car. The behaviour was a contradiction and led the police to make an arrest for car theft. A contradiction for you might be learning that your Secret Santa partner, the boss, likes tacky Christmas tree decorations and collects a new one each year and they are within budget. More seriously in business it might be the difference between performance ratings and business results in a unit. High individual performance ratings but low business unit results.
  • The third type of insight involves ‘making a connection’. For example, between leadership behaviour, customer satisfaction and profitability of a business unit or the interest the young IT guy has in social media and a present idea posted on Twitter.

To create more insight Klein recommends three approaches which relate to his three strand model.

The first is using the power of contradiction. Generally, contradictions create uncertainty and this can make us move away from them or ignore them. Contradictions are usually signalled by inconsistencies, confusion, or conflicts. The important skill here is to live with the contradiction and explore it more deeply by becoming curious. This exploration stage will require reflection, time for the brain to process the information. This can be a useful tactic for leaders and a tool for coaches to help coachee’s see past their current version of reality.

The second is making more connections. The goal here is for organisations or individuals to increase accidental connections; individually this may be about having more experiences, a broad network of people or being well read across different areas.

Klein’s final approach is creative desperation. In this situation we feel cornered usually by our own mind-set about the problem. Most often this is caused by the assumptions we hold. Organisations that foster a process that gets people to list their assumptions hope to avoid this impasse. Klein observes they rarely manage this as people get stressed and distracted by the assumption listing and it is hard to determine which assumptions are poor and which good. He recommends critical thinking, a systematic analysis of the evidence to decide which assumptions to believe. But too many companies and individuals become over reliant on critical thinking and fail to let ideas form. Like making assumptions about what your Secret Santa partner will like before you have explored a bit with their friends. Insights need to be nurtured until fully formed.

All of these types of problem solving need a stage of incubation. Research by Dodds and co showed incubation increases the chances of insight and even more insight happens when there is also preparation by researching around the subject. This suggests it is important to build in reflection or quiet time for example, in coaching or training to allow people to unconsciously process. We found the number of insights increased dramatically when we changed the structure of our training workshops from one day to an afternoon and a morning. The insights happened overnight when participants had processing time whilst they slept.

A similar approach is to let people articulate their confusion, or what they are stuck on rather than explaining everything at once. The process of working through their own thinking plugs into the desire for insight rather than being told. So talk through your concerns about the Secret Santa gift with a trusted friend.

And the other option is to buy a membership to our Brain-savvy Business community.  Just email me janhills@hhab.co.uk and I will send you a code for 3 months’ membership for half the normal fee. That’s just £15. Think of all the benefits: within budget, provides learning, provides a community to learn with and if you treat yourself too you can share your insights with your colleague.

Good luck and I hope they like it!

 

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