Introspection means having the will and courage to look deep within our mind and soul to find answers, and sometimes questions. It’s an act that builds connection between the outer world and our inner world, both so rich and vast.
I didn’t always know how to use introspection to my best advantage. Often times I would race after my thoughts instead of allowing them to just be. But over the years I’ve become more skilled and I’ve come to learn that introspection can help us enjoy more fulfilling lives, by being more truthfully aware of ourselves and those around us.
It’s also an act that makes us more successful business people. In fact, I think introspection is one of the most powerful tools we have available in business.
When we learn to practice introspection, with honesty and curiosity, everything else in business — suppliers, customers, products, employees- will follow more effortlessly.
Introspection is an act of reflection. When we reflect, we question. We start by questioning things about ourselves, but we don’t stop there.
Over time, by getting into the habit of self-reflection, we create a habit of not taking what we hear and see as status quo, but of thinking about what it means and how it can become better.
In his speech “Solitude and Leadership”, William Deresiewicz says:
“we have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. (…) What we don’t have are leaders. What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. “
When Gerstner became CEO of IBM in 1993, he not only kept the company as one big ecosystem, but leveraged its grand scale as its biggest competitive advantage. He did this in spite of the fact that everybody around him told him that the company should be broken down in a dozen pieces if it wanted to survive. What he did was a result of thinking for himself.
Not only do we become better thinkers through introspection, but this habit of thinking for ourselves also gives us the courage to act on our ideas and to fight for what we believe is true.
Great business people take action with courage and create cars instead of faster horses or high quality full length animated features instead of an endless supply of animated short features.
Two business graduate professors, Leslie E. Sekerka and Richard P. Bagozzi, identify self-reflection as a necessary means to move towards the conscious desire to act, when faced with a moral challenge. I’ll add that self-reflection is the foundation for any courageous act, regardless of whether it is a moral challenge or not. In any form of taking action we are faced with at least 2 options: to act or not to act. Examining which of the options fits better with our values and goals gives us the path to choose.
The root of the word “courage” is “cor” which means “heart” in Latin. So courage really means that we take action according to our heart. But we have to be close to our heart in order to fight for what it wants, and that’s something that we can only achieve through introspection.
Through introspection, we find out who we are.
As Aristotle said “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Knowing who we really are helps us determine why we operate the way we do, what we need to be happy, what we’re excellent at and how we can contribute to the world in a meaningful way. This clarity about our purpose for ourselves and for the world gives us focus and energy.
Most successful business people have focus. They know what they want and they direct all their efforts towards getting it. When we have focus, we are unwilling to let anything stop us from reaching our destination.
Some people struggle with this question for many years and some people don’t ever find out what they want to focus on. They do things that don’t align with any specific focus and so their energy ends up being squandered on activities that don’t help them reach their highest potential. Then they feel sad and unfulfilled. Finding out what we want to focus our energy on is hard and for most people I know, doesn’t happen until later in life.
But the answer is always there, within all of us. All we have to do is ask. Kindly, honestly and without any expectations.
Introspection allows us to know what others want.
In business, these others can be our customers, our employees, our bosses and anybody we engage with. There are a lot of people we want to keep happy in our business. For example, I know you know how important (and hard) it is to get employees or contractors to do their absolute best, all while staying happy and energized.
Knowing what moves people and how they want to feel helps us inspire and motivate them. Everybody’s different and what motivates someone may not work for someone else. To get to truly understand other people, we need to appeal to empathy, the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, or to simply have empathic concern for someone else’s feelings.
Using empathy to connect with customers gives us useful and practical knowledge which oftentimes is not told by data alone. As Dev Patnaik writes in “Wired to Care”,
“empathy is the ability to step outside of yourself and see the world as other people do. For many of the world’s greatest companies, it’s an ever-present but rarely talked about engine for growth.”
So to know what others want, we need to appeal to empathy, and empathy is a byproduct of introspection. How can we understand what another person is going through if we don’t understand ourselves? By having concern for ourselves, we develop concern for others.
Introspection paves the way to quiet our mind and find answers to questions.
When I stumble upon a question in my work, I sometimes feel stuck because I don’t know the answer. There’s too many “wait, but what if we do this instead” thoughts in my mind. Or sometimes I really have no clue. I’ve found that what helps me is to step away from my working table, sit comfortably, quiet my mind and then ask the question. The answer is always there, and after I validate it, I find it’s the best answer I could have ever found.
It’s not easy to quiet our minds, but introspection helps us get better at it.
These are just some of the reasons why introspection is a valuable tool to anything in life, including business. Maybe you can think of others as well.