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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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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 orĀ  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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Is too much information a good thing?

sensory overload

Well, no. By definition. But despite occasional thoughts that I am suffering from sensory overload, I’m grateful for the sheer amount of information available to us – TMI or not. I believe it makes me a better researcher.

However I can fully understand the concern some have over the sheer volume of knowledge available to us. Articles on the subject are appearing all of the time. We are infomaniacs. We now squeeze 31 hours into a single day. Google is making us stupid.

The root of this trend is of course the Internet. The democratisation of information means that our sources have multiplied. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but it becomes a challenge to distinguish the signal from the noise.

Extending the sources of our knowledge can widen our understanding, but the returns are diminishing. At what point do we reach an optimal point? When is the incremental benefit of an additional piece of information outweighed by the costs?

I’ve recently experienced this dilemma on a report I have been writing. After the first few pieces of research, the key themes begin to emerge. But rather than write up my findings, I continued to delve deeper into the data. My report was ultimately more thorough, but the key themes remained the same. Was this additional time spent worthwhile? Or would I have made better use of my time by moving onto the next project?

Ultimately, I believe it was worthwhile. There may be specific reasons when this isn’t the case, but generally I would argue that all information available should be considered because of NEEDS:

  • Nuance: Comparing and contrasting different sources allows you to put findings into a better context
  • Expertise: The more you take in, the more knowledgeable you are. It builds a solid platform for further work to emerge from. More work at the first stage can reduce the workload at later stages -in a similar way to new teachers writing lesson plans from scratch in their first year, and then honing existing plans in subsequent years
  • Experience: Following on from expertise, greater knowledge allows a greater understanding of both normative and emerging trends. In aural reports, this informed opinion is often as important as the data itself.
  • Depth: My themes may have remained, and so the breadth of my report remained the same. But I was able to expound on each with much greater depth of detail and understanding
  • Simplicity: This final point is counter-intuitive but also crucial. Accumulating information is easy; synthesizing and condensing isn’t. More information may make this task longer, but it will ensure greater quality and accuracy. For instance, the Net Promoter Score may be only one question, but a lot of work (and a 210 page book) went into the formulation of that question. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”

If ignorance is bliss, does that make knowledge miserable? In my opinion, no. The best insights come from a complete assessment of the available information. This requires focus, dedication, excellent time management and an eye for detail, but the effort will be rewarded with the results.

sk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/biancaprime/