Damn, Why Didn’t We Think Of That?

Winner of the UK Apprentice Michelle Dewberry said of her experience working with Alan Sugar :

It’s so intriguing and interesting to watch him because you’ll be in a meeting and maybe there’s a problem to solve or we need to decide on a direction and you can see his brain ticking. It’s so interesting to watch as you can see him literally working out a solution in his head. And he just comes up with something! And the thing he comes up with is generally quite genius and we’re all sitting round the table thinking “damn, why didn’t we think of that?”.

When looking at a project, making a major decision or trying to strike a deal, a great entrepreneur like Alan Sugar or Richard Branson looks at the available information, talks to the people involved and then somehow – seemingly without having to think too much – the answer comes to them. How do they do that?

Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book ‘Blink’ talks of this ability and points out that in nearly every field of endeavour this insight is a recognised characteristic of the great people in that field. He sees this as unconscious processing behind a “locked door” in the brain, we don’t know it’s happening until we suddenly get the flash of insight:

In basketball, the player who can take in and comprehend all that is happening around him or her is said to have “court sense.” In the military, brilliant generals are said to possess “coup d’oeil”—which, translated from the French, means “power of the glance”: the ability to immediately see and make sense of the battlefield. Napoleon had coup d’oeil. So did Patton. The ornithologist David Sibley says that in Cape May, New Jersey, he once spotted a bird in flight from two hundred yards away and knew, instantly, that it was a ruff, a rare sandpiper. He had never seen a ruff in flight before; nor was the moment long enough for him to make a careful identification. But he was able to capture what bird-watchers call the bird’s “giss”—its essence—and that was enough.

The key thing to appreciate is that this ability is not a special talent, it’s something that you can develop. You probably already have it in several areas of expertise. If you’re a physiotherapist you might be able to see someone in the supermarket and know instantly they have a hamstring problem. Myself I’ve been swim coaching long enough that I can see someone take just two strokes and I already know 80% of what they need to do to improve their swimming.

Obviously having this ability in your business/entrepreneurial life would make a massive difference. My belief is that this ‘instant insight’ is so important it determines whether you will be successful at all.

So how do you develop it? The answer is pretty obvious – by getting out there and getting experience. Put yourself in situations where you encounter business problems and try and fix them. Read everything you can find on important subjects. Deliberately try things you know you’re bad at – for instance if you’re a poor copywriter then start writing regularly! No idea about finance? Try to convince someone to give you some!

Experience doesn’t just make you more experienced, it actually makes you much better at problem solving too. In a sense it actually makes you more intelligent. The great thing is that once you recognise how essential experience is, it actually takes the pressure off you. Sure you’ll try your best in every situation but you know you can’t expect to get everything right at first. This makes everything more fun and the tough times easier to deal with as you see them as part of the journey, not a reflection on your ultimate potential.

As I said in my last post Waiting For The Golden Ticket, the single worst thing you can do is sit there, do nothing and wait for the big opportunity. Life doesn’t hang on getting lucky or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s a series of opportunities, some big and some small that are all around you all the time. If you have no experience you will fluff them all, especially the big ones. It really is that simple, so do what you have to do: get started!