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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

What Are Insights? (from simple to profound)

They are relative - some are deeper than others (but we need the shallow ones too - they are the basis for deeper ones).

Simple insight, from a population estimate: there were 4.9 million people in New Zealand as at 30 September 2018. That is, essentially a piece of data, it is an insight into New Zealand's population, but essentially just a number (a "fact" if you like, though actually an estimate), what it means to you, how you interpret it, may start to move it further from just a single piece of data to a more substantive meaningful insight, when you bring out this meaning and contextualise it with other information to gain greater understanding.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines insight as an "accurate and deep understanding". So the example above, of 4.9 million people in New Zealand, is an accurate (Statistic NZ's estimates are usually pretty accurate) but not deep understanding of New Zealand's population, although, of course, "deep" is relative. That is, it is on a scale (a continuum) from shallow to deep, but what is shallow or deep for one insight (and for one person) will differ according to what it is compared to (and who is assessing it). There is a progression. Like from simple to profound, or hard to soft. For instance, that there are 4.9 million people in New Zealand, might be a shallow understanding of NZ's population if we have numerous other information on the population that we could use to develop a more complete understanding of it; on the otherhand, it is a lot deeper understanding than simply, 'there are some people in New Zealand'. (Note that both of these statements are ‘factual’, and both could be termed a piece of data or information or knowledge.)

My point here really is to show that there is a scale for insights (as with all terms that have a relative component in their definition), and that it is false simplicity to assert that only 'deep' understandings are insights when the term deep itself is relative. Really, insights start shallow, like 'there are people in New Zealand', and gain depth as we gather more information, more data, and can say more things about what it all means. To reiterate, insights are on a scale from simple to profound, just like depth is on a scale from shallow to deep, and their place on that scale is relative, so one insight can be simple compared to more profound insights, while still being profound compared to more simple insights. And also, even though some insights we made in the past may look simple to those we make now, they may once also have looked profound (and more accurate) compared to the insights made before them, as, hopefully there is some progression to our 'accurate and deep understanding' of things - not only that, but those past 'simpler' insights also form a basis for future more-profound and more-accurate insights, a basis we cannot do without.

Relevant terms (OED):

Fact - A thing that is known or proved to be true.

Data - Facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

Information - Facts provided or learned about something or someone.

Knowledge - Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Intelligence - Military or political information.

Understanding - Knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works [this is actually the Cambridge dictionary definition, I didn't find the OED particularly good on this: 'An individual's perception or judgement of a situation.']

Insight - An accurate and deep understanding.

Ben Wallace
Author The Common Purpose
LinkedIn - http://nz.linkedin.com/in/benwallace13
Twitter - http://twitter.com/BenDWallace

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