Or: How I Learned to Put Down the Pickax and Stop Trying to Mine for Insights

As an account planner at DDB Health, I often wax poetic about our ability to uncover deep insights that are grounded in human truths. [Insert eye roll here.] And yet – despite the affectionately mocking gesture we all just did – we must admit that, as a healthcare advertising agency, our search for “the truth” is important. When it comes to people’s health, we can all agree it is essential to have a deep understanding of the science behind our brands as well as the needs of our customers. However, when it comes to generating insights – those somewhat intangible, seemingly hidden, but important nuggets that inform much of what we create – the known truth is only one component.

In an effort to better wrap my brain around what has become a vague and lofty concept, I recently watched a video presentation attempting to tackle what an insight actually is. Andy Davidson, the head of the UK global insight consultancy, Flamingo, presented his perspective on insights, and I was especially struck by his provocative stance on their relationship to truth. While credibility is often at the top of the list of criteria for what qualifies as an insight, Mr. Davidson bluntly posits “Truth is usually boring. Truth is too late.” Gasp! Now before you wholeheartedly object and throw your laptop across the room in a blind rage, let’s step back, perhaps take this provocative idea with a medium-sized grain of salt, and ground ourselves further in how we define insights.

In watching this video, I found it incredibly refreshing how Andy Davidson began by saying, “An insight is a feeling; you kinda know it when you feel it.” And I believe he’s right. We’ve all experienced those “insightful” moments when we pause – eyebrows raised, head cocked to the side – knowing we’ve thought of something profound and different.

But, since I’m sure we can picture our clients’ faces after informing them that feelings are a core feature of our insight illumination process, a working definition that Andy Davidson and his team use at Flamingo is:

“A Disturbance in Discourse – An insight creates a new way of thinking that was impossible before, allowing us to express what was previously inexpressible.”

Through this lens we can revisit the notion that the truth – or the facts – are only one part of what defines an insight. What I find most compelling about Andy Davidson’s perspective on insights is the importance of combining known truths to create new ones. If our approach to uncovering insights is too narrow and too steeped in the pursuit of only that which is known, then we run the risk of mistaking facts for insights, and replicating what already exists, which is most likely what our competition is already doing. After first immersing ourselves in the world of our customers to understand their known truths, we must then give ourselves permission to entertain “what might be interesting if it were true.”

An approach to insights that utilizes a range of human truths – customer, culture, category, and brand – as means of generating new truths is what will truly allow us to use creativity as a force for good health.