At the recent Insight Innovation Exchange (IIeX) in Atlanta, I presented my take on the new skills that people involved in commissioning, creating, debriefing, and using insights need.
So, to share the ideas more widely, here is my nine-point plan for staying relevant in a changing world:
1. Recognise that the secret to being a good, or even a great, communicator lies with you, not with software or other aides. If you have a good story to tell and you have worked on your skills, it does not matter what package you use. Until you are a good presenter, stick to PowerPoint, and at that stage, expand your range by using different packages and options.
2. Collaborate. The workshop session in Atlanta identified over 20 new and exciting approaches to insights, from facial coding to mobile surveys, and from big data to insight communities. Nobody can be an expert in everything. Most teams and even most companies can't expect to master all the relevant skills. The future is going to require collaboration and co-operation. The ability to scope, resource, and manage a multidisciplinary project is probably going to be more important than any specific insight skill.
3. Understand causality versus correlation. Don't be distracted by mere correlation, or worse still, spurious correlation. When there is more data, there are more random patterns. Data scientists will find it harder and harder to find insight in big data, because the bogus will outweigh the real. The answer is a proper research understanding of cause and effect, of designing a test and of evaluating outputs.
4. Be sceptical. Some of the new methods won't work, some will be potentially harmful in terms of wasting money, producing bad suggestions, or even bringing the brand into disrepute (think about some of the big mistakes already made with social media). Insight professionals are going to need to be the truth tellers. It is our job to spot snake oil from the real stuff - end clients have too many other concerns, this is our job.
5. See the potential in the new. Clearly, this needs to be balanced with point 4. If we are too open, we will accept the bogus. If we are too sceptical, we will miss the big opportunities. We need to think like people such as Andrew Carnegie. He looked at bridge building and railways and saw they needed steel. He also saw that steel was expensive and in short supply. So, he pushed the solution, worked out ways of using steel, and created a steel-making industry - advancing industry and commerce, and making him a fortune.
6. Adopt the Bayesian thinking. Bayes is the new Gauss. Most of the statistics we were taught at school was based on Gauss and classical probability theory. For example the normal distribution, the mean, the standard deviation, standard errors etc. That type of thinking does not work well with the sorts of problems we have today and sorts of inputs we have. The new model is based, sometimes loosely, on Bayes. Bayes allows what we already know to shape our assumptions about what will happen next, i.e. we develop iteratively, rather than because of some grand underlying plan.
7. Use Triangulation. When working with data and statistics that are not perfect. Qualitative researchers have used this method for many years. Triangulation focuses on two things: a) looking at a problem from more than one direction to see if the answers line up or disagree, b) making testable predictions.
8. Aim to be a better translator. The insights business is mostly about being a translator. We take business problems and translate those into propositions that can be tested. We take the internal language of R&D and we turn it into the language of customers. We take the feedback from customers and translate it into business recommendations.
9. Provide real insight. The final point is we need to be illuminators. When we provide an answer it should provide light, people should be able to see what they are doing and where they should go next. In that sense insights should work like the door to the refrigerator: when you open it, the light comes on.
One of the reasons I love lists of 9 things is that it creates an open invitation to people to suggest a 10th item. What would your 10th item be, in terms of new skills for a new era?