Insight … So What?

BLG02x - Wells - imageThere is a lot of hype around analytics today, with most of it centered on the word “insight.” It seems that everyone has bought into the mantra: analytics gives insight. We use and overuse the word to the point where it is becoming meaningless. At a recent conference one attendee – a manager of an analytics team – told me that he had been instructed to deliver at least three new insights each week. Struggling with those vague instructions, he chose instead to focus on delivering three new data visualizations per week.  That seemed to satisfy the boss, but the manager questioned the value of what his team was producing.

At the same conference another attendee told me how her organization had changed the BI requirements gathering process. The new standard is to ask business stakeholders what insights they need to have. She was skeptical about the whole idea, and I think with good reason. Pardon the cynicism, but I just don’t see that one working well. Expect lots of blank stares and very few meaningful answers.

Analytics gives insight. My question: So what? Many buy into the hype and talk as if insight is an inherently wonderful thing. But insight without action has no value, and insight with arbitrary and occasional action has only limited value. Insight is not the ultimate goal. It is simply a means to an end. The end – the goal – in today’s fast-moving business world is innovation. Insight is simply a step along the path to innovation.

So what does it take to get real value from analytics? Insight is a necessary step, but it is only the beginning. I believe that analytics should drive conversations, and that real insight is derived from the conversations at least as much as from data and analytics. More importantly, I think, is the concept that insight leads to ideas, imagination, and inspiration – the first steps to making change and the bridge from analytics to innovation. Getting from analytics to value follows a path that I describe as the Five I’s: 

Insight … Ideation … Inspiration … Imagination … Innovation

And in the end there is a 6th I – Impact. When innovation directly impacts customer perception, brand equity, and financial performance in positive ways, value is created. The leading companies of the future – perhaps the surviving companies of the next generation – will embrace both analytics and innovation and understand the very powerful connection between them.

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Dave Wells

Dave Wells

Dave Wells leads the Data Management Practice at Eckerson Group, a business intelligence and analytics research and consulting organization. Dave works at the intersection of information management and business management, where real value is derived from data assets. He is an industry analyst, consultant, and educator dedicated to building meaningful and enduring connections throughout the path from data to business value. Knowledge sharing and skills development are Dave’s passions, carried out through consulting, speaking, teaching, and writing. He is a continuous learner – fascinated with understanding how we think – and a student and practitioner of systems thinking, critical thinking, design thinking, divergent thinking, and innovation. He can be reached at

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