Why I Don’t Talk About Insight

I can’t tell you how many definitions of the word ‘insight’ I have encountered over the years. Yet somehow, despite its constant use, we still have yet to agree on quite what it means. At times I feel like the word only exists so smug planners can lean over to their colleagues in presentations and condescendingly whisper ‘that’s not really an insight’.

‘Insight’ is at once ubiquitous and elusive, not unlike the very thing it seeks to describe. It’s a word that is evoked constantly in advertising — but not by me.

I avoid the word, in part, to also avoid the debate that stems from using the word. But more importantly, I avoid the word because it makes it seem like what strategists do is magic. The idea that there will be a box in every brief that will reframe how we think about human behaviour in such a way that it unlocks boundless creative potential is not just unrealistic, but intimidating almost to the point of paralysis. And if the thing that we call ‘insight’ is almost never this magical unlock, then why is that our definition.

So rather than insight, what I look for are things that are both interesting and true. I don’t mind an ‘observation’ providing it’s interesting. And if you can uncover the ‘why?’ behind that observation and get to something even more interesting, then that’s even better. Perhaps that one true, interesting thing will be enough to spark an idea. Or perhaps you may even uncover two true, interesting things that are at odds with each other. That’s when things might really get exciting.

Before one of my old bosses became a strategist, he was a DJ*. And he would occasionally draw similarities between the two professions. He used to describe the role of a strategist as creating an environment that was conducive to creativity, not unlike how a DJ creates an environment conducive to elation. What I love about this approach is that it acknowledges that the creative process isn’t linear (research > insight > idea > Cannes Lions). Sometimes the strategy might unlock the perfect creative catalyst, sometimes it won’t. But what it should always do is create a fertile environment for the magic to happen.

And ultimately, that’s why I don’t talk about insight. ‘Insight’ implies the magic has already happened, while our job is simply to ensure the magic is happening.

*Dino Demopoulos is a must

Storyteller, problem solver, bon vivant. Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy Toronto. @thomaskenny

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Tom Kenny

Tom Kenny

Storyteller, problem solver, bon vivant. Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy Toronto. @thomaskenny

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