Thursday, October 27, 2011


Steve Jobs once said that when playing tennis, you need to be not where the ball is, but where the ball is going to be. When applied to business, embedded in Steve's observation is the ability to see what others can't see.

And seeing what others cannot see happens in two ways. The first is pure chance or an educated guess. The second is to have a complete understanding of the landscape you are trying to succeed in. You could do worse than carrying out some research. And there are many who do an awful lot worse by carrying out perfectly decent research and then simply reporting and making decisions based directly on the answers to the research questions. It happens every day. We already know all the issues around asking questions and consumers only being able to discuss topics within their existing frame of understanding and reality. We know they can't predict their reaction to a new idea. We also know that you cannot take soundbites and present them as findings.

So what do you do? Be warned I am providing an overview only in this post. The full version of this oversimplified explanation can take a few days to convey.

I was having lunch last week with Joanna Chrzanowska of Qualitative Mind at one of my favourite restaurants in London. How, I ventured, do you generate insight? And her response was this:

Insights do sometimes come out of data via the unconscious (or preconscious) processing. However, this is random... What we need is a more disciplined method that leaves an audit trail of the thought processes and a more solidly grounded theory than just an insight.

Imagine me (Joanna speaking) spilling a box full of Lego pieces onto a table. Each is a piece of information. A quote, photograph, video clip, etc.

The first thing to do is group the pieces by colour, shape and any other clusters that are obvious to see. This is the equivalent of conducting analysis. Analysis is about seeing what it there and organising it in a way which is useful. To be clear, we are not carrying out interpretation yet.

Next you begin a process of re-clustering and building. Building concepts and theories by referring back to the original Lego pieces and selecting pieces to build your theory. Now this is the important bit. Sometimes you will find that all the pieces needed to build your theory simply are not there. In this event, you will need to change the shape of your theory or rebuild it from the ground up. But all the time, you will be looking at the data and your clusters either conceptually (helicopter view was Joanna's expression) or at event level. And very importantly, you will need to be able to move easily and rapidly between te ideas you are building and the individual Lego pieces.

Whether you are building a theory, thought or concept depends on your line of business project type. But once you have built them, the process of seeing what others cannot see begins. And out of that process your insight will percolate to the surface. Sometimes it will spring out at you, other times it will slowly take form over a few days or weeks. In any event, insight does not come directly out of your data. It comes out of the way you conceptualise the data. See what I mean?

Where am I going with this look into seeing what others cannot see? To the EthOS app, that's where.

We are creating tools to enable people to construct ideas from a bunch of raw entries, films, pictures, audio and text. One feature enabling travel between events/entries and concepts right now is EthOS WorkSpaces. You can experience WorkSpaces by signing up and running a no cost pilot. Do it!

And remember your insight emerges only after you have understood, at a conceptual level.


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