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Why Insights Don’t Take Root: 3 Common Misconceptions about Insights

Nemawashi is a Japanese word that describes nurturing a sapling plant. Specifically, it describes “digging around the roots” so that you can move the sapling to another location. If the gardener plants saplings next to full grown trees, they won’t reach the light; the larger trees take all the nutrients and the new plants will die, resulting in no new organic, growth.

Customer insights, market insights, or process insights are like new plants requiring careful attention to be transplanted from the workshop into the business or from the individual to the team. If we only define insights as personal a-ha moments, they become hard to scale because they are rooted in my problem rather than the business problem. If we only define insights as business innovation catalysts, they become hard to personalize because they are too abstract in context of my problem. The challenge is that insights need to live in both worlds. Therefore we need the ability to transplant insights.

Many times, a business is under the gun to find new paths forward with no time and no budget to generate insights. This is normal. But even in times of pressure, are we open to asking, “In order to move forward, are we thinking big enough?”

To rally your team around insight generation and to avoid common missteps during strategic planning, consider the three most common misconceptions about insights.

Insights are an afterthought.

We’ve heard it before: begin with the end in mind. But what defines ‘the end’? If the expectation of ‘the end’ is that we gain new insights, we need to be explicit the need up front.

Many times, companies hold strategy sessions for alignment and run activities with an implicit desire for insights. However, strategy sessions for insights require different methods and priorities then execution-focused activities.

If you want insights, be explicit about that desire upfront–don’t throw them in at the end. Without insight intentionality, you might end up with a future-focused plan that puts you right back where you started.

Insights are too obvious.

All insights start off as obvious statements. But through understanding context, critiquing and shaping, obvious insights become memorable. It is important that we don’t dismiss obvious insights but push them from the known into the unknown. Non-obvious insights require rigor and effort so they can live through the transplanting process. Non-obvious insights bring life to new, different or unexpected information.

Here are questions to ask yourself to avoid obvious insights:

Did you create your insight with a baseline understanding of the problem? If not, you might generate insights that are too far off course from the project intent.

Did you spend time shaping the insight so that it reframes the problem? Insights are a communication tool. Consider your audience and what motivates them. Metaphor and real user stories are a great tool to leverage here.

Did you find non-obvious data? Insights are grounded in data. They are more than a rhetorical device. Explore more than one data type ie., primary data or analogous data. Insight research often fails because work stops at the first appearance of something tangible and useful.

Insights are too risky.

How far into the future do you want to look? Three months out? 12-months? Five years? You can develop insights for any of these timeframes. However, it is essential to align with your team on this vision early in the process. Bottom line: make sure your ambition for the project matches the resources needed to get there.

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On the flip side, if insights are not risky enough, they can become vague plans. Insights are not plans; they should challenge the status quo. If you are looking for insights only to validate what you are doing, then what you really want is an action plan.

Because insights are vital.

Insights to pivot. Insights to challenge. Insights to reframe. Insights are a powerful tool within business because they point to a higher purpose or vision of the future. However, insights are often poorly defined and poorly understood. And stay locked within the workshop or within inspired individuals who need to share their story. Lack of communication is the biggest risk to insights and change. In the next article, I will explore how to be add rigor to your insights and build them so they can be transplanted into a larger context.

Special thanks to inspiration from Ritsu Katsumata for introducing me to the concept of Nemawashi.

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