What was the last insight you encountered that really changed your mind or shifted your perspective?
I need an example when you heard or read something, and you went away and created change in your organisation or personal life.
Do you have one? Great. If not, why not? Insights are everywhere, aren't they?
At least that's what we are told. In every conference presentation we are told "insights". In every piece of quantitative data there are multiple insights, because it's numbers, and they’re big and big is best. We look for insights to be given to us. We deserve insights, they are owed to us. They just sit there waiting to be picked up anyway.
I often think that for many things we are told are "insights" they should actually be called "interestings". Because when we hear a fact about something we don't know about, it does fill a gap in our knowledge, and quite often we find that, well, interesting.
But is the data the insight? Is it really insightful?
Is it the act of plugging a gap in our knowledge that enables the insight that we have been looking for to form?
As you can probably gather, I think about insight a lot. Insights about people who use your product or service. Insights about your business or the environment you inhabit. Insights about different potential, probable and possible futures for you or your organisation. Insights are a key part of the research, strategy and innovation process.
But I don't think we work hard enough at creating them.
I am currently working on my own evolving definition of insight. There’s probably a more correct definition out there, but sometimes we need our own words and thoughts to make sense of things:
“An insight is a compelling truth, created in the synthesis of multiple data points that unveils a new perspective, opportunity or mind-shift in the reader or viewer.”
Insights fall in a spectrum from “interestings” to “transformational”. Poor practice often mistakes observation for insight - and can prioritise quantitative data, eg. We interviewed 20 people and 15 people talked about X. This is just an observation. Maybe a pattern. It’s not insightful, it’s a fact of the process.
But the fact or pattern might be the foundation for, or key to the insight. It could be that we are waiting for that piece of information to be the final piece of the puzzle we are trying to solve. It’s not that a piece of data is insightful in itself, it's the fact that we need it in relation to multiple data points to create a shift in perspective.
Then we need to contextualise it in a credible story, to make people care and take action. Too much research becomes focused on the contractual artifacts, rather than the true value of the process - to change people's minds and enlighten them to new perspectives. Then compel them to do something!
Truly great insight is transformational. Transformational insights are more rare. They’re the Holy Grail of research. A transformational insight should change the viewer in a way that they can’t undo. If you read an insight about a customer or your business, you can’t go back. It should promote a profound reaction to the work; emotionally, intellectually, potentially even physically.
This sort of insight takes deep thought. It takes effort. This sort of insight is crafted and honed over time. Written and rewritten. Brewed and distilled. You also need to not solely be steeped in the data. You need to engage in other activities. Increase your down time. One of the best things you can do to increase the likelihood of creating something truly insightful is to stretch your time out as long as possible and create enough space and opportunity for your brain to see what it needs to see.
Even after a project is finished, be prepared to deliver that critical insight at a later date. Maybe even six months later the real insight is uncovered. Prepare to re-engage with the project. Go back to the client or team and let them know what you’ve created.
They may be eternally grateful for all the hard work you’ve put in.