Insight is hard work

If ever there was a time that we needed our leaders to have insight, to identify something that grounds them, and around which they can rally people, it’s now.

There’s a tendency for some of the development literature to assign insight a mystical quality, something that happens when we’re in the shower, or walking in the woods, and that it has some sort of mystical quality. Whilst I agree with that to an extent, we don’t often talk about the precursors to insight.

Ability to peer into and discern the inner nature or workings of things.

John Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict”

Insight is what gives us a different perspective on things. It opens new ways of seeing and understanding, and it often makes what we have learned and thought to be true redundant. It means unlearning and relearning.

One of the most difficult things with insight is conveying it to others, who still think you’re where you were before you had the insight. When Copernicus tried to explain his insight that the earth moved round the Sun, rather than the other way round, it didn’t go down well with the establishment.

Some people believe that it is excellent and correct to work out a thing as absurd as did that Sarmatian [i.e., Polish] astronomer who moves the earth and stops the sun. Indeed, wise rulers should have curbed such light-mindedness.


Copernicus was an iconoclast and a polymath – what the establishment would term a real pain in the a**e. He studied widely, with huge curiosity, mixed with others of similar temperament and was no respecter of convention. His moment of transformational insight took most of his life to arrive at.

If we want insight, we have to do the work.

Right now, we are overwhelmed with conventions about everything from the need for perpetual growth, to the superiority of our version of capitalism, to our right to plunder the planet, and the challenge it poses to those whose fortunes are vested in sustaining those conventions.

Leaders use “following the science” as a “get out of jail card” when they don’t want to question the wisdom of what we are proposing, or upset the establishment even though we know science understands only a fraction of the complexity of what is happening here. sometimes, we need to question the science (or more often our abuse of it)

There are real alternatives to what got us to now. They will be hard, and controversial, and unpopular. They need to be debated.

“Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler did not solve an old problem, they asked a new question, and in doing so they changed the whole basis on which the old questions had been framed.”

Sir Ken Robinson

We all need to do the work of looking hard at what we currently do, challenge it to generate insight and then put it on display, whether in our work, or in our politics.

We need to ask questions, of ourselves, of each other, and of those who ask us to follow them.

We need to do the work.

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