Friday, September 10, 2010

Ramblings on insight - that old chestnut

Don't even begin to tell how the expression, 'insight' is overused, misunderstood, etc. etc.

I know it is. I speak on the topic. Once I even asked a group of workshop attendees to come up with a difinitive, capture all, definition. And we ended up with this:

A piece of information which helps you to see your brand, competitor or consumer in a completely new way.

But the biggest problem, in my view, with insight, is that it's retrospective. You can't know something was an insight until you can measure its impact. Am I right?

Some 13 years ago, while at BMP DDB, I was conducting what turned into corporate ethnograpies with Kraft. I was in their marketing & research department watching, filming, listening and generally hanging out in any meetings where people didn't mind me looking in. And the retrospective insight issue kept coming up again and a gain. You see, no one really knew how good a piece of information or understanding was until they could look back on sales or market share or something else. And it was usual to have a minimum 12 months of waiting time before you knew. They even had a kind of a suggestions box for those anonymous ideas/insights no one wanted to be responsible for or take ownership of.

A junior marketer confided in me that each time anyone had an idea or a suggestion, senior management's response would be, 'Validate it'. Which meant the insight was usually killed at birth.

Now to the question of how to generate an insight. There is a very interesting discussion taking place in Linkedin about this very subject in the Consumer Insights Interest Group. Can it be taught? Is it a talent/gift? What is the best way of generating it?

With both, Kraft, the BBC, Easy Jet and a games software company we conducted corporate ethnographies for, the richest thinking occurred in lifts, doorways, corridors, waiting by vending machines, over lunch, lying in bed (no we didn't go that far), chilling over a coffee and critically, while having a heated disagreement about a piece of information.

Long before I joined BMP DDB, I had lunch with an ex- head of planning at O&M, London. She had retired and only just returned from a round the world yatch trip. Anyone know her name? (Because I can't remember) I can't even remember why we met but we discussed 'insight' at length. She explained that in her case, an insight was something she had usually always known. Rarely something completely new. And it had usually always been sitting there right under her nose. Made perfect sense to me.

And do you know how they would run insight workshops before a big pitch? They would invite a stand-up comedian to do a session on the brand. Which makes beautiful sense when you look at the observational skills of comedians like Michael Mcintyre or Rhod Gilbert. Geniuses at seeing everyday events in fresh new ways. If you haven't already, do click the links to view examples of great observational humour.

Now back to whether or not people can be trained to become more insightful. To me, it matters not one jot. Our workshops usually consist of 12 or more managers. No all will be naturally insightful or creative thinkers. But they will be good at debating with and challenging one another. So even if they can't come up with the ideas, they will intuitively know whether or not a piece if information or observation is insightful.

And our task when running insight action & implication finding workshops is to create an environment conducive to people crash different agendas, biases and points of view together around ideas generated (in our case) from watching clips of everyday life events, conversations and happening. And before we even begin debating an idea, I make everyone watch a clip 3-4 times over. And despite their cynism, each time, they see more and more. Things they hadn't noticed just a minute before.

Another thinking tool I use is trying to think about things that didn't happen, weren't said or nearly happened. A great way of forcing your mind away from the obvious and clear-to-see things that are happening.

I'll end with this great article (shared by someone in the Consumer Insights Interest group).

Would love to hear your thoughts too...


1 comment:

  1. While I worked at Alcatel Lucent it became obvious that successful managers were (and still are) the ones who know how to work the "Information Super Hallway." The irony of the situation (The world's largest provider of telecom infrastructure was utterly reliant upon informal means of communication to prevent, identify and mitigate issues.) was not lost on anyone. In many respects the information superhallway did far more to improve quality and efficiency than efforts such as CMM, PMI, ISO, and TL9000.