3 min read
16 Jun

Sometimes we just don't seem to have enough time to stop and think. 

Finding time and space to think deeply about a problem or issue is really important, especially if it is something that is of value to you and your school. 

It’s what computer science professor and author Cal Newport calls ‘deep work’ in his book of the same name. Influenced by the writings of Carl Jung, deep work involves those professional activities “performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” (Newport, 2016). 

Finding opportunities to immerse yourself in a distraction-free environment is of course terribly difficult in modern life, as we try to balance hectic home schedules with the ever-increasing demands of work.

This is where we hope the Huh Academy Leadership Lobby course with Mary Myatt and me comes in. 

It's been designed so that you can immerse yourself in it at your own pace to suit your busy schedule. Whilst we suggest a linear approach from start to finish, how you choose to dip in and out is really up to you. All of the materials are carefully curated and signposted so that you can go as deep, or as shallow, as you want. Along the way we suggest further reading and resources (such as blogs and articles) that you might want to engage with, all carefully designed to make you stop and think. 

We also check-in with you online in a live termly group webinar where we can share and reflect on insights and thinking. I know that Mary really values the importance of this and sees it as a key element of the course. 

Above all, we want the course to be disruptive. We want you to question deeply all of the things that you once thought were so, and to consider if there is a different way. Even if this means you reaffirming that you are on the right track, then this is a good thing for we must constantly challenge our beliefs. 

What follows is a an extract from the course of a typical 'think-piece' that we use when reflecting on what it means to lead insightfully. It is relevant here because it focuses on a century-old book called The Art of Thought. It's as fresh today as ever. 


In the book Seeing What Others Don’t, cognitive psychologist Gary Klein (2013) argues that in order to improve performance, not only do you need to reduce errors (interference), but more importantly you need to increase the gain you get from insights. 

According to Klein, insights transform the way we understand, see, feel, and desire. “They transform our thinking; our new story gives us a different viewpoint. They change how we act.” 

An insight is essentially a ‘Eureka’ moment that allows us to see (or frame) a problem differently by looking out for better patterns so that we can solve the problem ourselves. It’s not just a case of how well we see the dots but the extent to which we connect them up. As with most things, we need to be emotionally aware of this and to practice getting better at it. 

The good news is that it’s perfectly doable. The Oxford English Dictionary will tell you an insight is simply the capacity to gain an intuitive and accurate understanding of a situation. It is therefore well within your control; it just requires deep thinking. 

This is not new. We've known this for many decades. It all began in 1926 apparently, where - according to Klein in his book - the first modern accounts of insight were described in terms of the thinking process involved. 

It was proposed by London School of Economics co-founder Graham Wallas in his book The Art of Thought. The book sadly is out of print, but Klein provides a helpful summary of the four-stage model of insight which has much to offer almost a century later. 

To gain an insight requires four stages:

Stage one: Preparation, in which we investigate a problem, analyse it systematically but then realise it is beyond our capabilities and that further thought is fruitless;

Stage two: Incubation, where we forget about the problem and let our unconscious mind take over. Happy ideas then start to flow without much effort because we are encouraged to use mental relaxation models that tap into our core beliefs and values;

Stage three: Illumination, when insight bursts forth and up pops the ‘happy idea’, the sum total of all our unconscious thoughts and life experiences. Wallas was of the view that we could sense the solution brewing and that the moment of clarity and enlightenment just needs time to come to the surface.

Stage four: Verification, in which we test out our ideas based on our theories of how it might work and be applied. We need to dig deep in terms of fleshing out the solution in more detail based on our own background and expertise. What is crucial at this stage is that we have the necessary time and space to rehearse, refine and develop the validity of our new idea and solution.

When it comes to solving problems, perhaps there is still much more to learn in regard to the role insight can play in helping us think deeply about things. 

Take Fletcher-Wood (2018) , for example, when researching the design of professional learning experiences. Once of the reasons that these have perhaps not been as effective in terms of impact has been our inability to show insight when thinking about the ‘why’. 

As a profession, what we need to be doing is questioning everything that we thought we knew about our professional practice in order to build insight into our learning programmes that are seen as ‘threshold concepts’. 

To enable this, we need to expose teachers to provocative and abstract ideas, mischief, and different ways of working. Deliberate practice and coaching are key in order to help leaders reach fresh realisations about their work. 

Fresh realisations, insight, and being disruptive are all vitally important components of purposeful professional growth. What we need is a new kind of insightful leader who does not shy away from challenging the status quo, one who is secure in their own beliefs, but confident enough to have them challenged when thinking about complex ideas, especially in the here and now. 

The choice is stark, as Abraham Maslow once said: “You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.”

Stepping forward into growth requires a bold mindset, one where leaders have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and the desire to always want to improve. They do this, not because they are told to, but because deep-down, they want to because they know it is the right thing to do. 

(Adapted from Morrish, A. (2022) The Authentic Leader. A four-part model to lead your school to success, Bloomsbury.)

Want to find out more?

You can learn more about the Huh Academy Leadership Lobby course by joining Mary Myatt and me at a free introductory webinar on 20th June at 7pm. Register here

To discover more about the course, and to book a place, go to the Huh Academy website and take a look. 

(Thanks to Ginny Bootman @sendcogirl for the highly appropriate photo that she posted recently. You can see my conversation with Ginny about her book Being a SENDCo on Myatt and Co.) 

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