If organizations want to harness the power of customer insights, it’s critical that teams:
- Have a framework to organize and synthesize seemingly overwhelming and chaotic information
- Understand how knowledge and learning occurs in organizations
Insights are the key to a company’s sustainability. Insights can help cut through the noise and clutter, providing organizations and teams a clear path forward while inoculating against competitive threats. In a disrupt or be disrupted world, insights can serve a north star or a handrail to guide and assist you.
So, what’s an insight?
Based on 20+ years of research and practice in knowledge management, research and user-centered design initiatives, I’ve defined insights with two critical components:
- New information
- Changes behavior
If it’s not new information, it can’t be considered an insight. Also, if that new information does not create a change in behavior, then it is not an insight. Insights are knowledge management gold. Many organizations have an incomplete or misunderstood approach to knowledge creation and cultivation in their organization. In turn, it is difficult to reliably generate insights for the organization.
Knowledge Management Hype
Nearly 20 years ago, the tech and business sectors were abuzz with the promise of knowledge management (KM). We were moving out of the Industrial Age into the Information Age. However, we retained an assembly line model for how knowledge might be captured and used in organizations. I believe that KM failed to deliver on its promise because the knowledge problem was framed as a capturing problem:
If we could just get “what’s in everyone’s heads” captured and stored in one place, then everyone would benefit now and in the future
Capturing information is critical for KM, but it’s not sufficient. For data and information to be transformed into knowledge and wisdom — to create true insights — we must understand the context of human learning.
Moving from Chaos to Order
“A chaotic present robs us of clear vision.”
The search for insights, and making sense of the future can seem daunting. “A chaotic present robs us of clear vision” (Nick Scappaticci, CEO at Tellart). Simply put, we can reduce chaos by leveraging frameworks. But we know there is no one framework to rule them all.
At Handrail, it’s not uncommon to hear our founder Sean McKay saying “there is good kung fu in everything.” That’s because we don’t subscribe to any one “dojo”, but look to synthesize the best methods and practices to apply for a given context. The “Five C’s” presented here is what I like to use with my teams and constitutes our Knowledge Considerations Framework. It addresses five areas to help teams cultivate knowledge and get to insights:
- Collection – the gathering of information and knowledge.
- Context – the interrelated conditions and environment in which knowledge exists.
- Culture – the values and norms that impact the currency of knowledge and the process of knowledge creation and knowledge sharing.
- Curation – assembling, managing, and presenting knowledge in a meaningful way.
- Collaboration – working and learning together throughout the KM process, mixing ideas and perspectives.
Using our Knowledge Considerations Framework, you can reduce much of the chaos and noise associated with the knowledge management process to help your teams increase the quality and productivity of your insight efforts.
Here is a short-hand version of our Knowledge Considerations Framework to help your teams cultivate knowledge and get to insights.
Knowledge Considerations Framework
Commit to data collection. Without data being collected there can be no effective analysis and synthesis. Address ways that team members collect and categorize potential knowledge objects.
- Content collection practice – make it easy enough to use so that team members will capture the knowledge, and provide a structure that will facilitate easy retrieval.
- Focus on what you need to know as you set out on research and discovery projects. Use our Research Map for inspiration.
- Understand the types of knowledge you are looking to create (internal task based, market, customer, etc.), so that you focus and refine your collection efforts.
As Andrew Hinton reminds us, context matters. Context is an increasingly complex consideration in modern UX Design. Central to understanding context is a thorough understanding of physical, semantic, and digital affordances – both from where the knowledge was procured and where it will be presented. By thinking through each of these dimensions we can considerably improve our understanding of user needs and business goals, so that we can improve our chances of developing meaningful insights for our organization.
- Be intentional and work to help apply contextual cues to data objects and artifacts – label things and use meta data.
- Track and be aware of the context in which research was conducted.
- Provide context when presenting findings and telling the story of your research.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Drucker was right. Culture still eats strategy for breakfast. Be aware of your organization’s culture (beliefs, values, and assumptions) to understand what types of information and insights will be valued and work to cultivate a culture of knowledge sharing. If your processes for knowledge management and insights go against the grain of your organizational culture, your KM processes will disappoint.
- Develop culturally aligned incentives to participate in capturing, storing, and sharing knowledge.
- Create an open environment to share and explore ideas.
- Reduce your individual bias.
- Look for ways to reward teams for sharing knowledge
It is not enough to capture, store, and share knowledge objects. To increase and extend the value of knowledge, you must have a process of curation. In the context of KM, curation should account for the organization, presentation, and interpretation of knowledge. Organizing and sharing relevant information on specific issues will provide shared understanding.
Kim Irwin, author of “Communicating the New: Methods to Shape and Accelerate Innovation,” emphasizes the need to share results that are interesting, relevant, and actionable.
The transfer of knowledge is assisted in the form of stories. Curate and frame knowledge in stories to help team members understand and remember the content.
- Curate and present information so that it is interesting, relevant, and actionable.
- Embrace a content lifecycle and archive old information.
- Tell a good (accurate) story.
Many KM initiatives failed because they did not account for collaboration. Your KM efforts should embrace and support collaboration and team work. Specifically applied to KM, ensure a diversity of ideas and perspectives are utilized throughout the KM lifecycle to improve the overall quality of your efforts.
Be clear and explicit regarding roles and expectations of who is responsible for capturing, organizing, curating, and analyzing information to cultivate knowledge and insights. Without clear roles, expectations, and goals, you’re simply wishing for good KM outcomes.
- Support and cultivate communities of practice.
- Start small with one or two teams as you pilot new KM and insight initiatives.
- Understand and communicate roles and expectations.
- Celebrate diversity of ideas and perspectives for richer insights.
Many knowledge management initiatives fail to realize the promise and potential of a “knowing” organization. This failure translates into few, if any insights, for the organization. Many KM initiatives have failed because they worked to solve a knowledge capture problem and did not address the critical aspects of culture, context, and collaboration.
In your pursuit of insights and cultivating an ongoing KM initiative, use a KM framework, such as our Knowledge Considerations Checklist, to ensure success for your team and improve your ability to get to insights.
We built Handrail to help teams collaborate throughout the entire user research process. Plan, collect, analyze, store, and share your research all in one location. Sign up for a free 30-day trial today.
Matt is a researcher and product specialist at Handrail, Inc. He is passionate about human-centered design and helping teams do more effective research. Matt has led strategy and design work for early and late stage startups, as well as some of the country’s most recognized brands.