What is “insight speed” and how do you get there?

In my consulting work with clients, I have two practices which I’ve come to realise are very unusual:

  1. I favour long meetings (2+ hours) over short
  2. I favour public meetings (cafe, bar, etc.) over private

My typical client engagement is generally something like a 2.5 hour chit chat in a buzzy coffee shop or members’ club or something like that, as opposed to a structured office based “meeting”.

The reason I do this, is because I am chasing an elusive beast:

Insight speed.

Insight speed is the sort of flow state moment where all the pieces of the puzzle start to fall together before your eyes, and you spit breakthrough observations (i.e. insights) effortlessly and naturally.

Many people – even those in professions that require it – aren’t even aware that such a state exists.  Instead they believe that our capacity to see reality is sort of “steady”, and so never create the conditions required to unlock their full galaxy-brain potential.

The evidence for this can be found in their utter aversion to the practices I outlined above.

It has become high status to disdain meetings – especially long rambling unfocused ones – and to instead prize “efficiency” in our dealings.  And whilst I don’t think people necessarily disdain the idea of public meetings, they certainly don’t happen very often – probably also because of their perceived inefficiency.

And yet, without these factors, you’re going to struggle to uncover what the true “strategic state” feels like.

Let’s just focus on the long meetings concept for a second.

The reason this is so important is because you need roughly an hour of throat clearing and rapport building to hit your stride.  If I do a simple advisory call with a client, I allow about 2.5 hours in the knowledge that the only valuable part of that call is the bit that starts 1.5 hours in.  There is very little direct value in the first hour or so, but we need to push through it to get to where we need.

You can’t shortcut it, that’s just how it is.

As for the public spaces element, this is more simple: the atmosphere loosens people up, the ambience is general nicer than some crappy meeting room, plus, of course, there’s table service which is a pretty good bonus!

Basically you just have a nicer time, and what’s wrong with that?

Finally, when you combine these two things, you unlock a massively underrated additional factor:


Or, if I were to really go out on a limb, friendship.

Yes ultimately the quality of your insights are directly correlated with how good a “friend” you are with the other party.  Friendship builds trust, humour, ease – all essential contributing factors to uncovering truth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessary full blown “pals” with all my clients, but I would say that we are at least always friend-ly, and have an easy co-conspiratorial relationship which makes the work not only effective, but pleasant too.

Why do people miss this stuff?

Why do people sleep on such fundamental elements of the process?  Why do business strategy books and the like never talk about these things which are SO much more important than what “framework” you use or whatever?

I think there are a couple of factors.

First, it is true that there are many parts of the business process which shouldn’t be treated this way.  Anything “tactical” should indeed be addressed with short, to-the-point meetings – or even no meetings at all.  It is the misapplication of meandering meetings to such issues which give meandering meetings themselves a bad name, when in truth they simply need to be applied in the right context.

Second, the managerial revolution has, for good reason, emphasised the value of “professionalism”.  Professionalism essentially means standardisation of practices.  It is an attempt to make everyone in an organisation as similar, and thus as predictable and reliable as possible.

Once again, there is a time and place for this – but strategy and leadership is not it.

You cannot do strategy “professionally”.  You cannot!  Controversial statement but I truly believe this.

Again I refer you to the highly unprofessional nature of history’s great strategic thinkers – once again a feature not a bug of their system.

In some sense then, my service to clients is to inject a medicinal dose of unprofessionalism into their generally overly-professional processes.  Since I always have the ultimate purpose in the back of my mind things never stray into irrelevant territory.  But for the client themselves it feels leisurely and unstructured.  They don’t need to think about where we’re going or what the point of all this is – I can take care of that.

They just need to have a good time!

The bottom line then is to respect these forces, and to become good at identifying what is a strategic discussion, and what is a tactical one, and then to treat them differently.

Develop this sensitivity, and you’ll be unstoppable.

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