Whole Brain Thinking: The New Insights Mindset

By: Steve August
In the September 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, there is a remarkable article titled
‘Building and Insights Engine.’ Its three co-authors, Frank van den Driest of
Kantar Vermeer, Stan Sthanunathan, and Keith Weed of Unilever, describe how the
results of a research study with over 350 businesses and nearly 10,000
practitioners show that the highest performing companies put the customer at
the center of their activities through an a dynamic insights and analytics
function.
But what was even more fascinating, was how the the authors
laid out a blueprint for the optimal characteristics of what they term an
‘insights engine.’  

Ten Characteristics of an Effective Insights
Engine

According to the authors, the blueprint for an effective
insights engine consists of ten characteristics: seven operational
characteristics and three people characteristics. The seven operational characteristics
are:

‘    
Data synthesis (ability to connect disparate data)
‘    
Independence
‘    
Integrated planning
‘    
Collaboration
‘    
Experimentation
‘    
Forward looking orientation
‘    
Affinity for action
The critical people characteristics as:
‘    
Whole-brain mindset
‘    
Business focus
‘    
Storytelling
It is easy to look to focus on the seven operational
characteristics, but actually it is first of the three people characteristics
that is especially important – as it underpins all of the other operational
aspects. As the authors state, ‘Whole-brain
thinking is at the core of the insights engine.’  
This is an extraordinarily important point. Historically,
insights teams are organized with left-brain quant and analytics people working
separately from the creative right-brain qualitative team members. However, the
research showed that a differentiating attribute of the high performing
organizations was their ability to integrated the two types of thinking: 71%
for the high performing organizations versus 42% for the underperforming ones.
In a sense, one of the key underpinnings of a successful organization is how
well its people can draw on both right and left brain thinking. Or to put it
another way, the degree in which an organization can have a whole-brain mindset
can very well determine how successful a company will be.
These findings send an important message to the insights
industry. So often quant and qual efforts work in parallel or in sequence, but
not truly together. We often treat our analytical thinking and our creative and
storytelling thinking as two separate efforts, when more than ever they need to
be truly integrated. We need to be able to make connections between what we
find in the voluminous amounts of data at our disposal and the first hand
observations of the ground truth of people’s behaviors – and then collaborate
with our stakeholders translate what we learn into compelling stories that
drive action.
Van den Driest, Sthanunathan, Weed summed it up brilliantly
at the close of their article:
Having troves of data
is of little value in and of itself. What increasingly separates the winners
from the losers is the ability to transform data into insights about consumers’
motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.’
The authors showed that a truly effective insights function
is as much about how people think as is it about operational capacity. It is
time for the insights industry to embrace whole-brain thinking.  
About the Author: Steve
August is the CMO of FocusVision, the global leader in market research
technology. A pioneer in online qualitative research, Steve created Revelation,
the industry leading platform for mobile diaries, insight communities and
bulletin boards. Apart from speaking and hosting an array of conferences, he is
fascinated with design, technology and smart methodology’and how they can be
fused to get to the heart of everyday moments that reveal people’s emotions and
behaviors.