Death To The Weekly “Insight”

Apr 03, 2018

BY LIAM HANHAM – DIRECTOR OF DATA SCIENCE

Cognitive psychologist Gary Klein defines insight as “an unexpected shift in the way we understand things.” Is that how your organization defines “insight?” I came across Klein’s quote in a podcast entitled Insights, Please. Actionable Ones! which spent a good 20 minutes talking about how the insight has been diluted so much it’s lost its meaning and I completely agree. There are a variety of factors that have led to this dilution, the most egregious of which is the weekly report.

Please raise your hand if you’ve seen a version of this email from a coworker:

Hi, great job on the new weekly report. In the future can you please include your insights for that week?
Thank you.

You can put your hand down now. I think what your coworker is looking for in this case is why we’re seeing the muddying of our collective understanding of what “insight” actually means. What your coworker is actually asking for are a set of analytic observations, not insights. For example, the decrease in average order value of Product A being caused by a discount from the marketing team is an observation, not an insight. Don’t get me wrong, that is an important piece of information to communicate, but it’s not an insight. So is this a semantics issue? Sure, but in this case your organization can better prioritize where they want to take action and better discern observations from insights.

Organizations are rightfully hesitant to make a shift in the business plan unless they know the potential value. This apprehension is grounded in good principle, but has led very few companies to make any real shifts. I believe some of this is due in part to the dilution of the word “insight,” so how do we get it back to its original, full-strength meaning?

Start with deleting the word “insight” from all of your reports. Then, apply Klein’s strict high bar to your observations to see if any pass. What you are likely to find is a set of observations will end up supporting a main insight. It will take time and multiple projects to find supporting observations for your insight. When you then go to present your insight be sure to include all of the observations that support it.

As for your weekly report, well, what you’re going to find is that some of your observations are going to be attached to an existing insight, while others don’t yet have a home. For those observations that relate to an insight, you’ll also want to include what is being done to address that particular insight. Maybe nothing is being done and that is a decision the business made, but it’s always nice to remind them.

While I have given you one step to raising the bar of the term “insight” inside your organization, there are many more steps along the way. Changing the meaning of a word in an organization is an arduous process, but over time all of those interactions will snowball and everyone in the organization will finally know a real insight when they see one.