To improve performance, we need to do two things. The down arrow is what we have to reduce, errors. The up arrow is what we have to increase, insights. Performance improvement depends on doing both of these things.
We tend to look for ways to eliminate errors. That’s the down arrow. But if we eliminate all errors we haven’t created any insights. …
Ideally, reducing mistakes would at least help us gain insights but I don’t believe that’s how it works. I suspect the relation between the arrows runs the other way. When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights. Having insights is a different matter from preventing mistakes.
When I showed this slide in my seminars, I got a lot of head nods. The participants agreed that their organizations were all about the down arrow. They felt frustrated by organizations that stifled their attempts to do a good job. Their organizations hammered home the message of reducing mistakes, perhaps because it is easier for managers to cut down on mistakes than to encourage insights. Mistakes are visible, costly, and embarrassing.
Klein’s book is really about three things: (1) what sparks an insight; (2) what prevents us from grasping them; and (3) how can we improve the flow of insights?