“The essence of profound insight is simplicity.” – Jim Collins
As a young consultant I was told that when projects go badly the consultants would be blamed, which wasn’t surprising, and when they go well the consultants wouldn’t be acknowledged, which I hadn’t considered before. It was said that consultants were vilified publicly while being praised privately. Subsequent experience has taught me the reverse can be true as well. The intent wasn’t that we, as consultants, should feel sorry for ourselves, rather that if I didn’t feel like I could handle that reality I may want to choose another line of work.
Instead of deterring me from a career in consulting I found this to be a motivator to work my tail off. Many of those around me felt the same. Of course, failure happens, and we weren’t totally successful on every project, but we succeeded a lot more than we failed. That pressure and environment created a meaningful camaraderie, even among consultants on other projects or from other firms.
One of the core benefits consultants are expected to deliver is insight. There’s a joke that consultants simply use your own watch to tell you what time it is. Interestingly (and somewhat ironically), there’s a lot of truth to that. In my experience, sometimes the best “consulting” is the simplest and includes reminders about the value of the basics. The implication isn’t that a client doesn’t know the fundamentals, rather that their attention is rightfully on so many other things, that the advice and recommendation to refocus on what they already know can be refreshingly insightful.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t innovation in consulting, or that it’s as simple as focusing entirely on the basics, but instead that sometimes the best insights are what we might say in hindsight were the most obvious.
What is the Insight Intersection?
Insight is the intersection of assessment and interpretation (see Intersection 23 image below). Assessment without interpretation is taking a test and never knowing the result. Interpretation without assessment is a SWAG (silly wild-ass guess).
Insight is the value gained as a result of expending effort to learn or accomplish something. Insights are frequently portrayed as a-ha moments, which can take the form of:
Validation of assumptions
Lessons learned from success
Lessons learned from failure
Unexpected or unplanned outcomes
Insights inform decisions, lead to innovation, motivate action and change paradigms.
Most of the time the word assessment is associated with a formal test-like instrument used to judge proficiency at something or relative placement on a spectrum. However, we’re subjected to various kinds of assessments during all phases of our lives from the time we’re born (can we breathe, see, eat, make noise, exist) through old age (again, can we breathe, see, eat, make noise, exist), and everything in between.
Organizations are also in a state of continuous assessment. Internally, leaders should be assessing each facet of the business to ensure forward progress. Externally, customers, investors and stakeholders are assessing whether the company is worthy of their patronage, investment and attention. Overall, assessment can provide insight which, if acted upon appropriately, can further the going concern-ness of an organization.
Assessments are intriguing for people and organizations because of our desire to learn something from the results. When it comes to insight though, doing an assessment simply to check a box and without proper interpretation or follow-on action can be counterproductive as well as a misuse of resources and goodwill.
Intersection 23: Insight = Assessment + Interpretation
Assessments are helpful because they provide information. That information is useless without interpretation though. Interpretation takes many forms, from something as simple as a numeric score on a test, to a complex readout of exactly what the results of an assessment mean to the person or company being assessed. All of these lead to insights.
They can be objective or subjective and the buyer must beware. An incorrect interpretation can have adverse impacts (think false-positive). Credibility is vital tenant of interpretation. The same assessment result can mean different things to different people or organizations. There’s a burden on those doing the interpreting to do it right (many times this is what consultants are asked to do).
Insights are only as good as the interpretations they’re derived from.
What Can Leaders Do?
Leaders have three key responsibilities when it comes to insights as a function of assessment and interpretation.
Don’t over assess: Assessments lose effectiveness and leaders lose the confidence of their teams if assessments are overdone
Share insights: If insights exist but are never shared, individuals and teams will see assessment exercises as unproductive and useless
Use insights: Insights that are shared but never acted upon, or ineffectively acted upon, indicate a waste of resources and questionable leadership
Wrap Up & Up Next
Insights from external or internal sources are necessary for every organization. Not all insights are helpful, but those that are provide valuable input to everything from strategic planning to product road-mapping to lead team alignment.
Proper use of insights resulting from assessment and interpretation separate high performers from mediocre performers.
Next time we’ll examine the 24th intersection of performance, which is the Quality Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.