What is an insight?

I stumbled on a post over at adliterate that talks about how to discover insights.

The crux of the argument being that an insight should astound.  That all insights need to be revelations.  

No revelation or astonishing disclosure, no insight. Simple.

It’s absurd to me to judge the worth of an idea or a fact on its ability to astound.  Doesn’t the worth of that insight then also depending on the knowledge of the receiver?  If you thought the earth was flat, discovering that is was round is a pretty astounding – but not that insightful in this day and age.

This is a common argument in ad circles.  I see the same approach on the general nature of brands and advertising.  It’s all about the nature of something in the absence of its context.  Like there are ‘first principles’ hidden in the commonalities of specific cases.

Insight generation is not astrophysics.  You can’t take all the insights in the world, examine them, and come up with ‘gravity’.  Just not going to work.

5 Responses to “What is an insight?”

  1. May 19, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    i wonder if the problem is with the word (and actually maybe both revelation and insight). there are findings, and then there are are what some people term “insights” which can lead to a change in business. Revelationary might limit the amount of insights to 2 a lifetime; but sufficiently worthwhile to do something different as a business?

  2. Paul Soldera
    May 19, 2009 at 7:20 am #

    I guess I find it strange that we need to attempt to define the quality of an insight when innate to its definition is the fact that you are discovering/revealing some underlying truth. To qualify an insight as something that ‘astounds’ just doesn’t seem necessary.

    I’d argue there are no weak or strong insights, only known and unknown ones.

  3. May 21, 2009 at 6:30 am #

    there are stronger and weaker artists, stronger and weaker ads… would there not be stronger and weaker insights?

  4. Paul Soldera
    May 21, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    I look at insights more as ‘gold bars’ :) They essentially all have the same nature (made from gold) . And most of the time you will probably find a use for them. If you have a ton of them and are stranded on a desert island, while you could construct yourself a gold house, all you really need is a boat.

    Which is to say that an insight is only useful if your knowledge of it has some tangible impact on your current situation/problem, etc. In the absence of that, you might still be astounded by your collection of gold bars, but they are of no immediate practical use.

    If you want to define an insight as weak or strong based on it’s impact, that’s fair, but you can’t categorize them as weak or strong based on some arbitrary reaction – such as ‘astound’ as the op was arguing. (I think you made this point in the comment above, and maybe it is semantics :)

    Ads and art are different as neither one has a central ‘essence’ any instance of it needs to achieve. An insight does. It needs to uncover an underlying truth. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not an insight. If it does that and the receiver has no practical use for it whatsoever, the insight is only weak in its application, not its form. Ads and art can fail in terms of both form and application as there is no bar form them to attain to be called either.

    I think the biggest problem with research for business purposes is delivery of insights with no practical application. And some of these insights astound people so much, they lose sight of the fact that they are impossible to operationalize. Agencies gravitating to insights that ‘astound’ makes sense, as they have a hard time identifying insights that are useful to their client’s business. God know’s I’ve been guilty of that as well!

  5. Golley Israel Tega
    January 14, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    An insight simply means having a clear or deep understanding on a situation.