Monday, July 14, 2008

Why are good insights so hard to find?

You know, I just love LinkedIn - the professional online community. Not only is a great place to connect with colleagues, but it is also a great place where smart people ask incredibly interesting questions like, "What is an insight?" Which got me thinking - what is an insight and why are great insights so hard to find given that in my industry - consumer packaged goods - there are thousands of experts looking for them. Are they finding them? I don't know. Based on McKinsey & Company's assessment I think not. McKinsey says, "Despite solid balance sheets and healthy bottom lines CPG executives wonder where their new growth will come from." Since CPG companies are probably most active in the insight field, I then wonder why important insights are so rarely discovered. A while back the rumor circulated that men around the age of 34 shopping for diapers in grocery stores after 8 pm also purchased Budweiser - but that was no biggie. InBev just swallowed them up without even chewing.

Very often, managers view any product, service, idea, technology, or process that is new (to them) or different as an insight or innovation. (Well just because it's new to you doesn't mean it's new to the rest of us) (An old mentor tipped me off to this type of behavior chastising me for being too busy learning everything all over again for the first time) So I think quality insights are so hard to find because we don't know how to find them. Most companies have reliable resources in place to 'gather' and 'measure' data, but gathering and mining data is only a reflection of current consumer habits and practices and no matter how hard you look at the past it will not deliver what you need for the present. So what do you need instead? Why a knowledge creation process of course! Something that can create new consumer knowledge that has not yet existed to be gathered and measured. That's how you improve consumer behavior and take your highly saturated and penetrated category and take it another quantum leap forward - the same way Pampers learned to take disposable diaper's 'fit' and 'dryness' for granted and put the brand on the much larger 'development' footprint back in the early 1980s. Or the same way Folgers went from generic 'sensory' advertising (Mountain Grown/Richest Kind) to 'control's' best part of waking up is caffiene in my cup - recently sold to JM Smucker for $1.6 billion. That stuff sure does help me work and play well with others - especially in the AM! Now that was an insight!

Why else are good insights so hard to find? It's a matter of exposure. The rule of thumb is "The more you expose yourself too the more likely you are to succeed." But apparently you can't expose yourself to a whole lot by gathering and measuring data. And companies don't want to take on additional external resources. Sounds penny wise and pound foolish!

So if business managers are running businesses and making decisions based on gathered and measured data and have not exposed themselved to knowledge creation processes could that be the reason so much of American business is only managed to meet the numbers? Kraft can predict it's sales based on predicted birth rates over the next 5 to 10 years. Doesn't take many if any profound insights to pull that off. Is that the kind of business management that's going to bail Starbucks or General Motors out of a jam? Is this why technology is king in the new creativity economy? Well, lets forget about technology and product design. It's too easy to reverse engineer and copy.

So what is an insight?

An insight is the realization of value from a new solution to a problem that rewrites the rules of the game. In order for something to qualify as a true insight
  • It must engage a creative process,
  • It must be distinctive,
  • And it must yield a measurable impact.

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