What's the biggest barrier to your Insight team transforming your organisation's performance?
Does it lack the resources? Or the ambition? The skills? Or a receptive audience?
If you believe that it's a combination of all four, then most Insight leaders would probably agree with you.
But I suspect that one key reason your team is not making a critical difference to the most important business decisions is because it's far too busy working on other things.
Now some of these things might be important in their own right - I'm sure they seem critical to the middle managers who have asked you to help them - but in any one time period there will only ever be a handful of issues that could fundamentally change the performance of your entire organisation.
Unfortunately, many of us are too busy to focus on those issues, or even identify what they are.
Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less
Last week I read a fantastic book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism, a concept he defines as 'the disciplined pursuit of less'.
McKeown argues that we all have a set amount of energy, and in all aspects of life we have a tendency to spend it 'making a millimetre of progress in a million directions'.
By contrast, he believes that really successful people identify the things that are truly essential to their long-term sense of fulfilment, and then rigorously edit their lives so that they can put as much energy as possible into those things.
I think this is a great book, full of lessons from which we could all learn. And it's full of memorable quotes: for example, 'if you don't prioritise your life, someone else will'. Now how many of us could honestly look at our inboxes at work today and claim that we aren't letting other people prioritise for us?
An essential week
Over the last few days I've been trying to put some of these ideas into practice. Every day I've written on my iPad 'Today is mainly about...' and then made sure that whatever tasks I was tempted to take up didn't get in the way of accomplishing that one essential task.
Last Monday this resulted in me writing a new Insight leader guide - IMP202: How to sow the seeds of Insight knowledge - coming soon!. This was the first serious writing I'd done since I wrote the IMA's Transforming Insight: the 42 secrets of successful corporate Insight teams book - itself the product of being able to focus during the first lockdown on one essential thing.
On Tuesdays, my priority has been to talk to my colleagues about the work they are doing and any support they need. In passing, McKeown says that the word 'priority' was always used in the singular for 400 years before human beings decided in the last century that it was grammatically possible to have more than one priority.
On Wednesdays, it has been essential for me to contact new IMA members - some great companies like Coca-Cola, Premier Foods, Innocent Drinks, St James's Place Wealth Management and Oxford University Press.
On Thursday, I needed to finish the Essentialism book and write this article. And then last Friday, I joined the Nudgestock conference and set aside time to think about how behavioural economics can be applied to Insight work.
I hope you read this book for yourselves, and that you find it useful to declutter some of the busy-ness from your schedule.
But I also hope that you agree with me that there are important lessons here for our Insight teams.
If we continue to say 'yes' to lots of requests from other departments and allow them to set our agenda, it seems incredibly unlikely to me that we will ever see customer and market insight set the agenda in our organisations.
Saying 'no' is not easy, especially if our Insight functions were originally set up as reactive, service providers. But it is - yes, essential - if we are to carve out sufficient time to identify and focus on the very small number of issues that could truly transform the performance of our organisations.
I hope you have a great weekend. And when you come back into work next week, I hope you and your team make fantastic progress on one essential issue. Let's make sure we don't waste our energy making a millimetre of progress in a million directions.
Chief Executive, IMA
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