The Moment of Clarity

Summary Written by Rex Williams
"Getting people right is the key to taking your business out of a fog."

- The Moment of Clarity, page 181

The Big Idea

Use your human skills

"When you understand what drives the behavior of your consumers, you will reach a deeper insight that goes beyond the facts of correctness into the experience of truth."- The Moment of Clarity, page 80

The authors introduced me to a new word, phenomenology, which is the study of how people experience life.

Any phenomenon, whether it be sports, eating, entertainment, weather, or trust can be analyzed by experiential aspects, which are different than hard science data points. Meaning, we can determine a scientific piece of data like how much rain fell in an hour, but the experiential aspect shows how the rain storm affected our mood. A piece of fabric could have three colors, but the American flag will have a much deeper meaning.

“Phenomenology will not reveal the essence of something – say, a car or a restaurant – but rather will show the essence of our relationship to that thing.” Understanding this relationship can help us make meaning from the experience. And the only way to truly understand the ‘experiential aspects’ is to immerse yourself in the experience and notice every detail, especially ones you might normally take for granted or ignore out of habit.

The main point the authors stress is this, “get out of the office and away from the spreadsheets. Don’t start your inquiry with the theoretical. Only experience stripped of hypothesis will reveal the rich reality of humanity.”
Not only will you gather ‘real data’, but your human intuition will understand its meaning in a more sophisticated way than a computer crunching numbers.

An ‘aha’ moment, or moment of clarity, emerges when you immerse yourself in an experience with an open mind.

Insight #1

Have an unknown mind

"Humans, like ostriches, tend to avoid dealing with anything that might change their core beliefs."- The Moment of Clarity, page 104

Maybe I’m revealing too much of my ignorance, but I learned another word from this book, ethnography – the process of observing, documenting, and then analyzing behavior. It is one of the main data collection techniques for the human sciences.

But instead of starting with a hypothesis and proving it through experimentation, like in the physical sciences, the authors recommend using abductive reasoning. This is when you start with the assumption that you don’t know anything – having an unknown mind – so you can make objective observations and only then make possible hypotheses. This kind of reasoning helps you better generate new ideas. It’s more about looking for answers. And they come in a flash or moment of insight.

But it takes skill to be an ethnographer (which I saw as a published description of Simon Sinek) because in order to be truly objective in your observations, you have to always be questioning your own internal beliefs and biases so that you’re not interpreting the experience from your own worldview (even though you always are.)

I’m going to attempt to be more aware of my own assumptions and try not to have preconceived answers when I’m observing behavior or searching for insight.

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Insight #2

Develop a sense of care

"Care is such a fundamental human condition that it is noticeable in an instant – as is its absence!"- The Moment of Clarity, page 166

The point of all this human behavior study is to make sense of the insights and then apply them to your business to solve difficult problems.

And when you do that effectively, the results will show that someone cares. Care means that something matters to you, that something is deeply meaningful, and therefore, you put all your heart and soul into it. It’s what the authors say is the very thing that makes us human.

Some might call it attention to detail. Others might say it’s what you’re passionate about.

The authors call it “both a sense of investment and carefulness” and not something that you can install in your organization like an app on your phone. It is not explicit, like a manual or a recipe because people often can’t explain it, they just do it.

Some ways the authors offer to develop care are:

  • Become a consumer of your own products and put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
  • Spend a couple of days on the floor of the company working in different positions.
  • Meet people across the organization and talk to them about what they do when they enjoy work.
  • Read the magazine, blogs, and books that your customers and colleagues read, and attend the events they would attend, so you can sense what is driving their behavior.

I’m fascinated by human behavior and how systems have such an influence on it. I plan to work on things that I deeply care about, and find ways to care about the things I’ve been asked to work on.

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Christian Madsbjerg

Christian Madsbjerg founded ReD Associates – a strategic innovation consultancy – with a group of likeminded people in 2007. He is the author of books on social theory and discourse analysis. Christian studied philosophy and political science in Copenhagen and London. The book ‘The Moment of Clarity – Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Hardest Business Problems’ will be published on Harvard Business Review Press February 2014. He lives in New York City.

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