ET BrandEquity.com brings the nineteenth part of Strategygrams weekly series.
This week’s Strategygram titled “The Leap of Ideas and Ideas” is part of a series created by Sattar Khan, a branding consultant. Each Strategygram condenses a strategic thought into a single image. The collectible series is a visual tour of strategic thinking and provides handy image prompts for your branding workouts.
Of the two – insights and ideas – one is the eye-catcher, the applause hatcher, the prize-stealer. But both are born from the same process. Rudyard Kipling might as well have described them metaphorically:
“For the Colonel’s Lady and Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skin!
In a preview you perceive elements in their present model.
In an idea, you place elements in their potential model.
At their core, insights and insights are about a leap towards a new understanding of the relationship – present or potential – between elements of a model.
As part of the Strategygram series, insights and insights are explored from many angles and this Strategygram addresses the question: where does the leap for insights and insights come from?
It begins at the humble level of that often despised activity – observation – without which we Nope: no insight, no idea, no innovation.
“The genius of Sherlock Holmes manifested itself in turning his attention to minute clues that poor Watson found too obvious to be relevant, and so easy to ignore,” says Arthur Koestler in The act of creation.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is candid about his modus operandiinforming Dr. Watson – we confuse his statements here – “You see but you do not observe. … You know my method. It is based on the observation of trifles.… There is nothing more deceptive only an obvious fact.… It is a capital error to theorize before having data.Insensibly, one begins to twist the facts to adapt them to the theories, instead of the theories to the facts.
Let’s say your boss asks you to venture out of the office – “An office is a dangerous place to look at the world” (John le Carré) – and observe customers not in focus groups but in their habitat – after everything, if you wanted to understand the behavior of tigers, would you go to the jungle or the zoo? – but you are afraid to come back with only observations, fearing the backlash of: “You have spent all this time observing! Where is the “why”! What is insight!
So? Are you coming out with a guess? Do you date with budding thoughts? Do you go out with a checklist? No no no. You do no such thing.
You come out with a “beginner’s mind”, an empty cup of learning and labels, limits and traditions.
You leave as blank slate, a dynamometer, a multimeter. You notice what catches your eye. That’s it. The reflection “what does this mean and where could it lead” comes later. You separate observation from interpretation.
In an accelerated world, you hurry slowly.
You observe the movement of people through the stages of an activity; the questions they ask and what they seem to think of the answers; the energy they invest in the activity; whether their behavior is opportunistic or planned, quiet or rushed; if they are frustrated or disappointed; their trade-offs, workarounds, and coping behavior; how they get out of the situation.
Anything that catches your eye does so because it represents an anomaly in your mind’s pattern recognition repertoire. Something is wrong, something is wrong, something is telling you.
That’s what an anomaly does – directing you to the real pattern that’s buried so deep it’s escaped the eye of anyone who’s seduced by the ersatz pattern shining on the surface.
When you have returned from your observing expedition and have disposed of your treasure trove of whatever prompted and captured your attention – the tell-tale gesture and the tell-tale remark, the illuminating detail and the tell-tale clue – you try to other ways in which these pieces fit together to form a new configuration of meaning, setting you on your way to decoding the hidden narrative (your insight) and encoding a new narrative (your idea).
The core of your epiphany will always be your observation.
Consider the Slinky, a simple toy that has sold over 300 million units, is featured in Weather the magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Toys of All Time and is part of MoMA’s Architecture and Design Collection.
In 1943, Richard James, a marine engineer, was working at a Philadelphia shipyard keeping fragile shipboard equipment free from shock and vibration, when he accidentally knocked over a new type of metal spool. To James’ amazement, the coil, instead of falling to the ground and remaining still, began to “walk” on the ground. That’s how James came up with the idea for this wildly successful toy: through careful observation.
“Now, was he thinking of toys before that?” asks Dr. John Kounios, a pioneer in studying the neural and cognitive bases of creativity, insight and problem solving. “I doubt it. There’s no evidence of that. It’s just that he saw that, it sparked that idea in his head, and it wasn’t like he was brooding or struggling with it. this problem for a long time, it was just a great idea that was a solution to a problem he didn’t know he had. Again, insight, creativity can be spontaneous, they don’t need be triggered by a problem, they can just happen.
Chance favors the prepared mind (as Louis Pasteur noted), but it also favors the discerning mind.
In a novel set in the Cold War era, a Western spy living undercover in East Berlin is ordered to make a perilous crossing to West Berlin for a rendezvous with his master who is traveling from Langley . The spy knows he would never have been told to risk blowing his cover for a non-vital meeting and yet, once the meeting is over – it lasts less than five minutes – the spy wonders why an in-person session, with all its vagaries, was necessary.
Spy: “Did you come all the way here just to ask me that?” You could have asked me over the phone!”
Driver: “I didn’t come all the way here to ask you that. I came all the way here to see your eyes when I asked you that.
You never outsource your senses. Your senses absorb all those unspoken nuances of a personal encounter: body language, mood, subtext.
This is how you get observations that others don’t get.
This is how you come to say the modern equivalent of this line in The Blue Anthrax Adventure“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It’s my business to know what other people don’t know.
Check out the first eighteen Strategygrams: “Speed Kills”, “Half Bridges Don’t Work”, “No Contest”, “The Silent Clue”, “Who’s For Lunch?” ‘, ‘Competition Is A Monster’, ‘The Distinctive Sells The Difference’, ‘Strategy as a Story’, ‘Timing Beats Speed’, ‘Conquering Fort Customer’, ‘How Are You Different?’, ‘The Villain and The Hero Inside’, and ‘Galileo’s Discovery’, ‘The Strategic Logic Chain’, ‘The Brand Experience Trio’, ‘Deer in the Headlights’, ‘Do the maths’ and ‘An Insight Is Like A Tram Car’.