Does your organisation nurture Insight?

Does your organisation really have Insight, or does it merely have a large and varied collection of individual insights from countless different insight projects?  Let me tell you a story which highlights the difference. 

My boss was leaving, and handing over the reins of the Insight team to me.  He said, “Whatever you do, Jane, you must keep up our series of insight overview reports.”  He actually made me promise him this.

These reports summarised for about ten key topics “what we know about customers and topic x”.  They were created by distilling our understanding across myriad relevant projects.

My heart sank. I had half planned to stop doing these reports. They were hard to find time for. They were intellectually demanding to write. Above all, they were a distraction from running lots of lovely exciting insight generation projects – which is what my job had been all about until this point.

But keen to keep a promise, and out of respect for the wisdom of my ex boss, I faithfully followed his edict as I took on the mantle of team head.  Team members grumbled; they too had seen these overview reports as a whimsical hobby of our previous leader and hoped that we would dispense with them. Ungratefully, we put our shoulder to the wheel, whilst cursing this legacy.

As time went by, I came to appreciate why he had set such store by these overview reports.  In my new role as team head, my perspective changed, and I too came to regard them as the most valuable work we did. 


Why a curated overview is the most valuable Insight work you can do

  1. I came to understand that having a library of countless insight generation projects does not equal a successful Insight team; it’s business impact that counts. 
  2. I realised that we could often guide business decisions without the need for a new insight generation project by using the existing understanding contained in our insight overview reports. This saved everyone time and money, and it made life easier for decision makers.
  3. The process of distilling insight across multiple projects actually generated further, often more profound, insight because it revealed hidden connections. Wow! 
  4. When we were put on the spot in a meeting and asked for “some insight” we could be confident that we had something relevant at our fingertips. We were prepared, not caught off guard.
  5. We were able to logically extend the summaries into implications and recommendations for the business. This shifted the reputation of the team from reactive to proactive.


So, what had we achieved here via our insight overviews? We had created a deep, embedded set of knowledge which helped to structure thinking and aid decision making in the organisation. Of course, no Insight team can be effective without the ability to generate new insights. But there is likely to be far more value in the accumulated and consolidated understanding of customers and the market than there is in a single new research or analysis or project.

It was as though we started off with just a packet of seeds, which we carefully tended and watered to cultivate a substantial crop.  We harvested this crop, threshed out the grain, and separated the wheat from the chaff.  We stored the grain and kept it fresh.  We ground it into flour to make bread.  In return it provided us with a quickly accessible, long lasting and nutritious food source.


How to create this valuable ‘Insight asset’ for your organisation

Firstly, consider how to structure insights in a way that would be most appropriate for your organisation. Shape your thinking with these questions

  • What topics should you create insight overviews about? 
  • How many overviews should you create? 
  • What’s the order of priority? 
  • What should the scope of each insight overview be? 
  • How detailed should it be? 
  • What sort of format should it be in? 


A good place to start is to draw a scoping tree to identify and structure all the possible relevant topic areas.  You can then use the same scoping tree to help you decide which topics to cover in each knowledge overview.  It is entirely up to you how broad or how narrow you make each overview, and whether together they cover all possible topics or only some of them.

The most effective Insight teams recognise the value of accumulated knowledge and prioritise the time and skills required to cultivate it. They devote time to distilling what is known and to deciding which key topics require big picture overviews.


Further information

If you would like to explore this topic in more detail, then the IMA has published a best practice report on Insight Knowledge. Please click here for more information.


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