It was a great question.
"I understand your formula for innovation: You must have a market need, a product that fills that need, and communication linking the two," a member of the audience said after a recent speech we did. "And I've read what you said about the need being the most important. But can you give me any ground rules to follow as I search for insights?"
The following three "rules" represent wisdom we have accrued (often the hard way) over decades of experience. Here's what to keep in mind as you set off to develop insights.
Rule No. 1: Be "Insight Agnostic"
This one is hard for the left-brainers. You've grown up with numbers. You love data, math, statistics, measurement, charts. You get a secret thrill when the chief financial officer says, "Prove it." Because then it's about sizing the opportunity, quantifying the insight, modeling the return, etc.
But there's a right time and a wrong time to require this level of quantification. The early stage of insight development is the wrong time. The truth remains that insights can come from anywhere. A casual conversation with your friends, an article you read, a competitor's quote, watching interactions with your customers—or, sure, a large quantitative, statistically reliable, multiyear study of consumers and prospects. They all make for potentially fruitful areas for insight development. So be agnostic and let the sources of insights be vast and wide. Does this mean that every insight qualifies as valid? Of course not. Eventually you will get to the point where you will have to quantify the size of the insight to make sure you're headed in the right direction, but that comes later.
Rule No. 2: Remember That a Strong Insight Generates Dozens of Ideas
How do you know when an insight is potentially significant? Here's a simple test. If you say your thought out loud and in a matter of minutes can dream up dozens if not hundreds of ideas, you're likely onto something.
Rule No. 3: Make Your Thoughts of a Higher Emotional Order
Your search for insights should go beyond the rational. Whenever possible, it should contain an emotional component as well. It's easiest to illustrate this point with an example. If you were talking to people about their health, you might hear: "I really need to exercise because I have to lose some weight, but I can't seem to find the time to go to the gym."
That sounds like an insight. But it doesn't seem to have an emotional component. We say "seem" because if you dig a little deeper, you might find one. How? By asking yourself "why" questions and then answering them.
For example: Why do I want to lose weight? Well, I wouldn't mind having more energy. Why do I want more energy in my life? Well, I want to be active so I can live longer. Why is that important? That's easy: I have two young children and I want to see them grow up, strive for their dreams, and live full lives. They're my reason for being.
Notice what happened in a simple conversation. We went from "wanting to shed a few pounds" to "my children are my reason for being." Just a few simple "whys" got us to a much richer and higher emotional order, and the need became extremely compelling. We're willing to bet this new insight statement leads to much richer outcomes than the first.
You must remember this. An insight—for the purposes of innovation—must embody a penetrating customer truth rich enough to generate significant ideas that can help build your business. Ultimately, an insight seeks to make someone's life simpler, more convenient, more economical, or even more worthwhile.
If you follow the three rules above, you have a solid chance of doing just that.