More and better insights

Insights, insights, insights.  I’ve spent a lot of time debating whether something is an insight or not.  There’s a lot of talk about what insights are and how to get them. In my view, insights are a new way of looking at things that leads to game changing behavior, which leads to competitive advantage, leading to being worth the cost to fund a Corporate Market Research Department.  Without insights, Market Research ends up just funding projects without really accomplishing anything.

So how can you improve insights?   I think that we need to realize that, as a form of creativity, insights require different thinking skills.  In his new book, Imagine*, Jonas Lehrer describes two types of thinking:

  1.  Convergent thinking- all about analysis and attention- the type of thinking market researchers use most often.
  2. Divergent thinking- described as “unexpected thoughts when logic won’t work”- which is a good description of the kind of thinking that leads to the deepest insights.

Aha!  This means that the typical market research thinking doesn’t yield divergent thinking.  This starts to explain why market researchers may usually be so poor at coming up with insights.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Everyone is capable of divergent thinking, in the right conditions -different types of conditions other than the extreme focus and analysis that market researchers are used to.  To prompt divergent thinking and thus better insights, we need to encourage people to get out of their routine way of solving problems and approach things in a different way.

I recommend reading Lehrer’s book, to help you understand this topic in more detail.  Interestingly, the book starts with a market research story – how ethnographic work and breaking the rules on testing new products resulted in a new breakthrough product for P&G.  It’s worthwhile reading for Market Researchers just from that stand point.  (Note I wrote this post before this book was pulled off the shelves.  Lehrer has has admitted making up quotes – no word if the book will be reissued/rewritten, but looking at this several months later I think the point I am making in this entry blog is important enough to leave as is.)

Following are a few of they ways I took away for how to create conditions more appropriate for generating insights (using divergent thinking processes):

  • Do things to get into a positive mood
  • Relax and take a break
  • Capture early morning thoughts (set your alarm clock for a half hour earlier so you can lay in bed and think when you are half asleep)
  • Pay attention when you are daydreaming
  • Surround yourself with blue (Hmm, what if each MR department had a blue “insight” room)

There are some surprising suggestions later on for group creativity that I won’t summarize including why brainstorming doesn’t work.

The fact that insights require a different type of thought pattern probably explains why our analytically heavy market research community has been relatively poor at generating insights.  But it seems that there are things we can do to change that, it is not immutable.

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