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Insights are not just a salad of facts

What is an insight? Really?

What is an insight?

An insight for Elon was: “The most entertaining outcome was the most likely’. His tweet suggests that he believes in taking risks and embracing the unknown, rather than playing it safe.

For Maya Angelou, the renowned poet and civil rights activist, it was: “People will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. A perspective on the impact of emotional connections. ^6ce4d2

Some of these insights challenge norms and encourage a re-evaluation on how we look at the world.

Getting insights however is not so easy.

We cannot just pluck insights from a tree and serve it on a platter.

As Chris Kocek states in his book, The Practical Pocket Guide to Account Planning, “Contrary to popular belief, there is not a mythical tree inside our offices from which we pluck insights on a daily basis.”

For individuals like Elon and Maya Angelou, it likely required a wealth of life experiences spanning years to distill such profound wisdom into concise statements.

Insights play a pivotal role in shaping the direction of a project, product, or even an entire company. Their significant return on investment is why companies prioritize investing in insights. While it’s impossible to replicate the depth of insights derived from decades of lived experiences, alternative approaches through design research methods can lead to valuable insights.

Let’s understand the shape of an insight by how the design research methodology ships insights. A typical design research cycle looks like this:

You’ve got a problem or a question that needs solving. It could be creating something new or making an existing thing better.

First, you gather clues. You talk to people who might know something about the problem or have experienced it themselves. You listen to their stories, ask them questions, and take notes.

Next, you look for patterns. You analyze all the information you’ve collected and start seeing common themes or trends.

It’s like connecting the dots in a big picture. This helps you uncover insights and understand what really matters to the people involved.

Eventually, this becomes a process to churn out insights on a consistent basis within an organisation. There is a navigation from data, information, knowledge, INSIGHT and finally, wisdom.

An insight is not just a statement. On the contrary, it is everything else but the statement. It’s the reasoning behind that statement. Insights are stories conveyed in a succinct way to help us with sensemaking.

Why do they help us with sensemaking? Why can’t all the data captured through all the interviews and literature studies be enough?

Picture this: 111111111111111….(million digits)

You’re brain finds it easy to store it (even if it’s around a million digits). You’ve been able to find the pattern here. A repetition of the number one. A million times.

But now, imagine this: 100010…(million digits)

You’re not able to make a head or tail of this information. You are not able to find patterns anywhere and are stuck.

Eventually you slice and dice the data, segment and start seeing some patterns emerging from what seemed like a random salad of 1s and 0s.

This is the process which design research adopts. Except that instead of 1s and 0s, you are trying to slice and dice transcriptions, anecdotes, statements, reports .

Insights help compress data in a beautiful way as you can clearly see the ‘why’ behind them. It ultimately has the shape of a story.

Your brain is a sprawling library of information. Stories, however, are the VIP section—easily accessible and constantly on your mind. And stories are wired into our very essence. We’re storytelling chimpanzees.

They captivate us, stick in our memory, and stand the test of time because they tap into the core of what it means to be human—our emotions, experiences, and the universal themes that connect us all.

Insights are arrows that cut through all the noise. They’re not just a salad of facts.