Avoiding insights

I really don’t like using the word “insight”.

As I wrote here, the word is hideously overused. Rather than being reserved for hidden or complex knowledge, it is used to describe any observation, analysis or piece of intelligence.

And so I’ve avoided using it as much as possible. In an earlier tweet, I referred to the Mobile Insights Conference that I’ve booked to attend as the MRS Mobile thing. And I even apologised for my colleague (well, technically, employer) littering our Brandheld mobile internet presentation with the word.

But this is irrational. I shouldn’t avoid it, if it is the correct word to use. After all, substituting it for words like understanding, knowledge or evidence might be correct in some instances, but not all.

Does it really matter? After all, isn’t a word just a word? As someone once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet“.

But he’s talking complete rubbish. Because words do matter. They cloud our perceptions. It is why brands, and brand names, are so important. And why blind taste tests give different results to those that are open.

In fact, this emotional bond we have with words has undoubtedly contributed to my disdain. And this should stop. So I vow to start reusing the word insight, when it is appropriate.

But when is it appropriate? I’ve already said that an insight is hidden and complex, but then so is Thomas Pynchon and he is not an insight.

In the book Creating Market Insight by Drs Brian Smith and Paul Raspin, an insight is described as a form of knowledge. Knowledge itself is distinct from information and data

  • Data is something that has no meaning
  • Information is data with meaning and description, and gives data its context
  • Knowledge is organised and structured, and draws upon multiple pieces of information

In some respects it is similar to the DIKW model that Neil Perkin recently talked about, with insight replacing wisdom.

However, in this model – which was created in reference to marketing strategy – an insight is a form of knowledge that conforms to the VRIO framework.

  • Valuable – it informs or  enables actions that are valued. It is in relation to change rather than maintenance
  • Rare – it is not shared, or cannot be used, by competitors
  • Inimitable – where knowledge cannot be copied profitably within one planning cycle
  • Organisationally aligned – it can be acted upon within a reasonable amount of change

This form of knowledge operates across three dimensions. It can be

  • Narrow or broad
  • Continuous or discontinuous
  • Transient or lasting

How often do these factors apply to supposed insights? Are these amazing discoveries really rare and inimitable, and can they really create value with minimal need for change? Perhaps, but often not.

And Insight departments are either amazingly talented at uncovering these unique pieces of wisdom, or they are overselling their function somewhat.

When I’m analysing a piece of privately commissioned work, a finding could be considered rare and possibly inimitable (though it could be easily discovered independently, since we don’t use black box “magic formula” methodologies). But while it is hopefully interesting, it won’t always be valuable and actionable.

But if it is, I shall call it an insight.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sea-turtle/2556613938/

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3 Responses

  1. I know why you say this, but the issue is by not using it, you are giving people who have bastardised the word and its meaning more power and influence and that is a very scary prospect indeed.

  2. The fact that you’re thinking so carefully about which word to use is a good sign. This is similar to the situation with ‘issue’ and ‘problem’ – there’s nothing wrong with the word issue, and it frequently overlaps with problem, but the two are not synonymous. If someone uses issue to refer to something that is clearly a problem (a delayed train, a faulty computer, a huge cloud of volcanic ash), I assume that they are either trying to make things sound less bad than they are, or that they are a drone working for someone who is trying to make things sound less bad than they are.

  3. Very good points (from both of you, thanks a lot) – I’ll have to remember the issue/problem thing for future complaints!

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