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OPINION26 March 2018

Insight should push alternative explanations

Opinion UK

The last thing people want is an insight, they want growth. So, insight must be disruptive to challenge ingrained thinking argues Julian Dailly.

Let’s face it, work is difficult enough. The hardest part of managing anything is keeping it focused and on track. Often, continuing along the wrong track is more attractive than stopping and changing direction. How many times do we stand around the coffee machine moaning about ‘How we do things’? Or fruitlessly reciting the same list of ‘quick wins’ no one ever achieves? Or worse, ruminating on the organisation’s unresolved strategic flaws.

Yet, at the same time, everyone needs to grow. To do better than last year, to overcome the competition, to find the next hit product, to engineer the new solution. To act based on insight.

I have a definition for insight: an insight is a credible alternative explanation. It’s powerful because a credible alternative explanation helps everyone see how things really work and move beyond how they thought things worked. 

For example, one news broadcasting client believed presenting the news without bias was a unique benefit for its US audiences, yet the client couldn’t understand why very few people subscribed to its channel. The alternative explanation, made credible by research, was that audiences valued precisely the opposite, showing far greater willingness to pay for very heavily biased and opinionated news and considering unbiased news the broadcasting equivalent of tap water.  

Just like when Galileo revealed the earth goes around the sun, not the sun around the earth, new thinking can be revolutionary.  

Alternative explanations are valuable because they enable businesses to do things other business wouldn’t do, such as invest in different ways, or design unique products and services. Ultimately, insight helps people and organisations change for the better.

Insights bust myths and can create advantage if acted upon. 

And they can also create chaos and anxiety – and frustration – if not acted upon. Challenging assumptions about how things work is a perilous task with lots of vested interests. Nobody wants to learn they may have spent a long time using the wrong assumptions.

This paradox means people in the insight community face difficult choices about how disruptive they’re prepared to be, even if resistance to alternative explanations inevitably holds companies back.

Remember, the Pope threatened Galileo with jail for suggesting the earth wasn’t at the centre of the universe. If only Galileo had been better at stakeholder management, things might not have gotten so out of hand.

Successful insight professionals carefully engage those around them, moving organisations forwards and enabling growth. The bad ones build a career on reinforcing the status quo

I passionately believe that thoughtful and well-executed research leads to alternative explanations. It’s also just as important to understand how people process and accept new ideas. Key is to pay special attention to how clients feel and how their stakeholders feel, helping them reach the insight on their own terms.

The broadcasting client in question reflected on the insight and switched its focus to marketing its entertainment programming. These programmes have become consistent top 10 ratings performers nationwide.

In the end, the value of insight is the extra sales, profits and other gains made by acting with insight. The process to get there involves challenging prevailing patterns of thought and action. Don’t sell insights to clients, instead offer a route to growth.

Julian Dailly is managing director of Morar HPI

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