Top business people are often lauded for their ability to have tremendous insight into the market and the forces that drive their business. This almost ‘mystical’ ability to anticipate future trends has made absolute superstars, very wealthy ones too, of many such business leaders.
But what of us mere mortals? Are we destined to plod along and never have a moment of brilliance unless we subscribe to one of these superstar plans?
I have a belief that we all do have tremendous insight into our everyday life, work and even the more serious stuff like ‘The Business’. I think the problem we have is organising these moments of brilliance into a coherent statement or plan that we can share with others. If this is true then we actually don’t have an insight problem but a sharing (or marketing) problem. Let us for the moment assume that our problem is recognising the insights we do have and then we can tackle the problem of sharing these insights.
What is an insight and more specifically, what is an insight in business terms?
For me an insight is an awareness of something that you previously had less of an awareness about. More importantly, an insight is a deeper understanding of a person, situation or series of events. Some experts believe intuition plays a large part in this. Malcolm Gladwell wrote Blink based on this premise.
So we all have an intuition about things and we often come to some bold conclusions about events and business transactions but these in themselves can’t be see an insights – they are merely products of our own personal understanding. When we look at a situation from different perspectives, when we consult people with completely different views to ours and when we apply various models to the same situation AND THEN we discover something new, often profound, then we have a new insight into the situation. This new insight then adds to your existing insights of your situation and thus influences your decision making processes.
Still sounding a bit thin on the ground? The key to gaining insights is involved in finding more information about the situation you are faced with. The quickest way to do this is to interact with people who have very different views, backgrounds and knowledge to your own. You increase your ‘variety’ when you do this and almost unwittingly you increase your knowledge. Even when the additional information is diametrically opposite to what you know – you are now aware of more information. If we had endless time we would all have great insight into everything. Because we have time constraints we must ensure that we gather enough information to have a balanced picture of the situation we are trying to gain some insight into. This I believe is a simple as it is – assimilate information and formulate an opinion. If you have discovered something new it is a new insight – if not, you have confirmed that the knowledge you had access to is the knowledge you already knew.
So gaining insights appears to be a lot easier than I thought, but what of sharing these insights with colleagues and bosses?
Herein lies the true value that you add. If you can help a boss or colleague have the same ‘penny drop’ moment you had then you are on your way to business insight stardom. The secret to revealing these moments is having a decent process that is methodical and can give you the same results regardless of the situation you want to gain insight into.
There are numerous processes and they all have a specialised section to them that helps you drill down into the detail but in essence they all follow this basic path:
- ask the right questions;
- identify all the factors involved in the situation;
- make some sense of the factors identified;
- design or apply a process to deal with the implications of these factors;
- assign responsibility for these processes;
- start doing, monitor and repeat.
Sounds simple when it is put like that. What the list doesn’t tell you is who to involve and when. The general rule is to involve as many stakeholders as you can – from the beginning. This helps you create a shared vision, shared problem, shared understanding and a shared solution.
In future articles we will be looking at each of the components of this article and trying to add more meat to them.