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Grey Hair and Grey Matter


I really hesitated in writing an article about Insights. I could imagine the groans because this is the most overused word in my profession, but bear with me, as I would like to give you a different look.

shutterstock_116100754Let’s start off with defining what an insight is not. It is NOT a fact or data point. Rarely will an insight emerge from a single data point. In quantitative research, you can string together several data points from one or multiple studies to create an insight.

Sometimes insights emerge from completely unrelated topics. For example, a colleague of mine used to run innovation for a large hotelier. She happened to be reading a book about homelessness and it dawned on her that in many respects business travelers are homeless. This merging of concepts gave her organization a fresh perspective on how they can better meet the needs of their customers.

“Insight moments” also emerge during qualitative research. Through listening and observing we develop this deep understanding of the consumer and situation.

I think there are two predictors of creating great insights: One is Grey Hair and the other is Grey Matter.

I think life experience (aka grey hair) is essential to creating great insights. I recall some focus groups a few years ago where a young marketer was struggling to embrace the feedback he was getting from home improvement consumers. I asked him if he had ever renovated a home, and I quickly learned that he never even owned a home. He completely lacked the experience – and hence, the empathy – for the people he was charged to persuade. The older you get, the easier it becomes to start recognizing patterns in human behavior and beliefs that can lead to great insights.

The other predictor is grey matter. I’ve been “doing research” for a long time now, and some people have the gift and some don’t. It is a learned skill, but some folks struggle mightily. There’s a very human reason for this: some brains aren’t wired that way.

As many of you know, I am a student of Jungian psychology and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The most successful insightful researchers I’ve encountered are those who are highly intuitive. That is, their brains are great at assembling disparate pieces of information and also seeing the big picture. Insights come to this person in a flash; They could never recite a step-by-step process for creating one.

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