Humor me for a second and write down your definition of the word ‘insight’. If you don’t have a pen and paper handy, take a second to think of your definition. ‘Insight’ is one of those words that is so common, especially in business circles, that most would feel the need to delete their search history after looking it up. We’re all smart people, so we all have a clear (and correct) understanding of what an insight is, right?

I’d be willing to bet on the contrary. Think back to the last research report you read or the last “insight share-out” meeting you attended. The word ‘insight’ was probably thrown about like confetti. But how many of those ‘insights’ actually met the following definition:

“The understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context.”

Put another way, “understanding why.”

In my own experience, quantitative and qualitative data points, without the underlying why, are mistakenly labeled as insights everyday. For example, the three data points below are often passed around with the ‘insight’ tag:

·      “48% of consumers have used mobile banking in the past year”

·      “Many people are not using mobile banking because their banking needs are being met without mobile.”

·      “50% of consumers are concerned about the security of mobile banking”

What do we do with that? Our strategy going forward is to…get more people to use mobile banking? …Increase mobile banking security? (I wish I was kidding, but I’m sure this literal translation has happened more than once.) This kind of information is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m certainly not disparaging the need to collect these data points. Insights are built from a collection of data, observations, perspectives, and experiences, all interpreted and synthesized together into succinct statements. But most people stop at data and observation. They fail to use their perspective, experience, and personal reflection to tie the data points together.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or input/output box for discovering insights. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t clear best practices. My team’s been successful in uncovering insights, and subsequently building compelling experiences, by asking people to tell us their stories in their own words, digging into the stories that hold the most emotion, and spending a healthy portion of time reflecting on everything we’ve heard.

I can also look back on the insights we’ve uncovered and tell you that every single one has been unexpected and surprising. In fact, most insights, when shared with our senior leaders, are initially met with raised eyebrows and a healthy dose of skepticism. That’s okay – and in my opinion, preferable. An insight that fails to change how you look at a challenge or spark a new approach to the challenge isn’t much of an insight at all.

 With all of that in mind, let’s look at our mobile banking data from before and envision what a compelling mobile banking insight might look like:

“People who’ve have grown comfortable with a banking routine (for example, paying monthly bills online and depositing checks at a branch) do not currently feel the need to conduct these banking activities on a mobile device. While they understand that banking via a mobile device is technically possible, they categorize banking as a focused activity you do ‘sitting down at home’ vs. something done in fits and starts throughout the day. Mobile banking, relative to traditional online banking, doesn’t fit within a user’s frame of how 'banking' is done. On the other hand, younger folks, who have not yet developed a banking routine are more accustomed to multi-tasking, both on and off devices, and are  more likely to switch fluidly between online and mobile banking.”

The above does away with the percentages and surface-level details, instead focusing on the underlying drivers of the same behavior highlighted in the earlier bullet points. Now, we can make more interesting recommendations, moving beyond “get more people to use mobile banking” or “increase mobile banking security”. We can use human-centered language to consider “how might we bring the ‘sitting down at home’ experience to mobile banking” or “how might we break the banking experience into singular pieces that are better suited for the ‘stop and go’ style of a person’s day.” These new recommendations lead to fresh and creative thinking around our problem space, suggesting a number of interesting solutions.

Insights, the underlying "why" driving attitudes and behaviors are the foundation for successful products, services, and experiences. Push yourself to move beyond simply recording data and observations. Take the time to listen to your users - truly listen - and dedicate time to making sense of their stories. Bring in your perspective, experience, and personal reflection to discover the unexpected and the surprising.