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20180323 – Insight



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The main idea of this book is to provide information about psychology of self-awareness, its importance for setting meaningful objectives for one’s live, and necessity of mastering self-awareness in order to achieve these objectives.


  1. The Meta-Skill of the Twenty-First Century

It starts with the story of young George Washington and his sad adventure with Fort Necessity, where his arrogance and self-assurance caused defeat. Author describes it as a good example of the lack of self-awareness; so eventually George Washington improved his performance in live by developing self-awareness, the skill, which is absolute requirement for the success. Author refers to studies that demonstrated opposite feature – self-delusion as typical characteristics of many people. She defines two types of self-awareness – internal, which is understanding of self and external, which is the understanding of how others see you. The final and very important point here is that self-awareness is a developmental skill and there is no better example than the older George Washington.


  1. The Anatomy of Self-Awareness: The Seven Pillars of Insight

The chapter starts with reference to Mayan civilization and story of its demise that author presents as the consequence of poor understanding of environment resulting in deforestation and destruction of Mayan ecology. After that she moves to religious understanding of self-awareness and concludes: “self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you”. From here author moves to discuss Franklin and Thoreau and their approach to understanding and controlling self from which she derives seven pillars of insight:

  1. Understand one’s own values
  2. Understand one’s own passions
  3. Understand one’s own aspirations
  4. Understand one’s own fit for environment
  5. Understand one’s own consistent patterns of behavior across situations
  6. Understand one’s own real-time reactions
  7. Understand one’s impact on others

For all 7 pillars it is imported to have 2-way views: from inside and from outside.

  1. Blindspots: The Invisible Inner Roadblocks to Insight

This chapter is about situation when people completely misunderstand how others perceive them. An example is an executive who believes that he is pretty good with people, but actually is hated by everyone. The author moves to research on criminals, who actually perceive themselves as regular good people. Author defines blind spots of such people as: Knowledge Blindness, Emotion Blindness, and Behavior Blindness. Author suggests some technics to fight this blindness:

  • Identify your assumptions
  • Conduct double loop learning: make predictions and compare later with actual results
  • Constantly continue learning even in areas one is very familiar with
  • Seek feedback on abilities and behaviors
  1. The Cult of Self: The Sinister Societal Roadblock to Insight

This is a bit of a problem that to some extent is caused by recent developments in American culture. As example, author discusses change in children naming from generic commonly used names like John to unique names. It went from 40% getting common names for boys in 1983 to only 10%. For girls it is from 25% to 8%. Author also discusses movement from Age of Effort to the Age of Esteem, when Self-esteem movement made people to look for undeserved appreciation. The recommendation is to combine self-acceptance with understanding objective reality.


  1. Thinking isn’t Knowing: The Four Follies of Introspection

Author starts discussion of follies with a good point that thinking about ourselves does not correlate with knowing ourselves and that assumption that introspection begets self-awareness is a myth. Then she discusses four follies:

  1. Myth of padlocked basement – about access to subconscious
  2. Why not ask WHY – about asking WHAT rather than WHY as in instead of “Why I do not like” ask “What do I like”. She stated that Why is good to understand environment, but WHAT is good for understanding self.
  3. Keeping journal – would not help unless done very carefully without overthinking positive and reasonably exploring negative.
  4. The Evil twin of Introspection – this would-be rumination, constant rethinking of everything. One important point here is that people do not care about our mistakes or successes as much as we think they do.
  5. Internal Self-Awareness Tools That Really Work

After chapter on follies, this chapter is about doing things right. What works is the mindfulness – simply noticing what we are thinking, feeling, and doing. Another one is reframing – looking at circumstances from different angles. Also, useful tool is comparing and contrasting. The final part of the chapter is about attitude – focusing on solutions or as author puts it: solution mining, which includes defining specific objectives and path of achieving them.


  1. The Truth We Rarely Hear: From Mirror to Prism

This starts with the story of personal experience when author learned how people really perceived her in the quite close circle of friends, only many years later in random conversation. She uses this to stress how much people reluctant to share their real attitude to a person. After that she points out that others are more objective than ourselves and that even unfamiliar people could provide a lot of valuable information about us. She discusses in details reasons why people are reluctant to discuss negatives, but happy to do for positives. Another issue is that in addition to people reluctant to tell truth, we are reluctant to ask. At the end of chapter author discusses various ways of obtaining true information, especially 360 reviews.

  1. Retrying, reflecting on, and Responding to Difficult or Surprising Feedback

This is about hearing and learning from the true feedback, which is in and of itself a very difficult task. She provides recommendation for somewhat formalized process of Receive, Reflect, and Respond. She also discusses problems and us of both self-limitation and self-affirmation


  1. How Leaders Build Self-Aware Teams and Organizations

This is about leadership and author builds this chapter about what she calls the three building blocks:

  • Modelling the Way
  • The safety and expectation to tell the truth
  • Outgoing commitment and process of staying self-aware.

At the end author expands the notion of self-awareness from individuals to teams and whole organizations.

  1. Surviving and Thriving in a Delusional World

This is about accepting world as it is, not as we want it to be and making positive change when it is possible. Author discusses example of Maria – the person who lives in her own reality. Author provides a number of examples illustrating this point. At the end she presents a detailed guide of how to improve self-awareness by using this book.


There is little new for me in this book, but it is still interesting how much our success in live depends on understanding of ourselves and how others perceive us.

Generally tools that author provides are nice, but I doubt that it is possible formalizing such complex thing as self-awareness. It also probably not really possible to see how others perceive us, but it is still worth trying. In any case it is a nice refresher of notion that so much in our live depends on us and it is always useful to try harder to be more self-aware.




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