Insights vs Measurement. Are You Holding Yourself Back?

February 9, 2017

By Carla Johnson

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future helped me realize I wasn’t crazy.

I grew up in a house full of left-brain people – my dad was an accountant-turned-farmer, my mom was a teacher and my older siblings are military strategists, engineers, scientists and lawyers.

Then there’s me. I’m none of the above.

I stumbled through two years of engineering in college (“That’s how you get a good job,” my dad told me) and found my way into history. That was my true love. As you can imagine, it didn’t feel like it had the substance of my siblings’ career pursuits. But it was the combination of the two that created an amazing start to my career.

As marketers we’re in the midst of the if-you-can’t-measure-it-don’t-do-it mentality.

That’s where Daniel Pink’s book saved me.

It’s not that I’m opposed to measurement. (Parts of me are still an engineer at heart.) It’s that I’m opposed to starting every conversation by basing the go/no-go decision on whether it can be measured.

There’s a ton of things that add value that aren’t measurable. That’s what I loved about A Whole New Mind.

Pink masterfully explains why the work of left-brain (or left-directed, as he prefers to call it) thinkers – such as engineers, accountants and lawyers – can be commoditized and outsourced to people in other countries at a fraction of what American companies currently pay.


And it should feel that way. Because this isn’t just a phenomenon for engineers, accountants and lawyers. Left-directed marketers can be outsourced, too.

We’ve focused on left-directed thinking as it relates to data, analytics and precision. Often, we won’t make decisions without referring to the numbers first.

“Will our customers like this?”

“I dunno. What do the numbers say?”

Right-directed thinkers, on the other hand, can process several ideas at once. And they come to a conclusion quickly. They like metaphors, context and meaning. They think in concepts rather than data.

It makes sense why we’ve relied on left-directed thinking for more than a century. As the world became industrialized we had to know if we were improving. We needed to measure for efficiency so we could scale business.

But it’s also why we struggle to deliver insights that matter to customers. Measurement doesn’t automatically mean insights.

We’ve got to stop drowning our audiences with rationale. Instead, let’s give them something interesting, unexpected and downright delightful. Let’s interact like real people do.

We’re over-thinking this

It’s interesting that we would never treat a person we like the way we treat customers.

Think about your friends and family. The people with whom you like to spend time.

If you wanted their attention, you wouldn’t pester them over and over. Emailing them repeatedly. Calling them. Stalking their every move online.

You realize that people are busy and when you have something you think they’ll find valuable, you’ll reach out. They pay attention because you aren’t bugging them every time they turn around.

Customers aren’t any different. In fact, I’m pretty sure the data would back me up on this that most customers are people, too.

This is where the right-directed brain comes in. It looks for meaning and wants to put things into broader context. It’s why content marketing that speaks to an audience like they’re humans – not numbers – and understands their pain proves so effective.

If you need a formula, Robert Rose and I talk about this in chapter 2 of our book, Experience: The 7th Era of Marketing. It’s based on the work that Chief Innovation Officer Eduardo Conrado did when he headed marketing. He and his team took a fresh look at the 4 P’s, which has been around since the 1960s, and translated it into the SAVE model – solution, access, value and education.

Source: Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing

Connecting the dots

We have to be able to connect the dots between what matters to our customers and what we’re doing as marketers. And if we only do this in ways that are measurable, we’ll never prototype fresh approaches that lead to great breakthroughs. When we focus just on what we can measure we give up opportunities to see things differently. And that’s what is most critical for marketers.

We have to be willing to loosen our grip and be willing to think differently. When we get nervous and yearn for an answer, running the numbers won’t save us.

Let’s be creative in tiny steps. Learn. And then begin to measure what makes sense.

Brilliant marketing teaches through insights, brings a provocative, unique perspective and creatively offers new ideas that audiences and customers hadn’t considered before. Because true insights can’t be commoditized and outsourced halfway around the world.

Brilliant ideas don’t start out as things that could be measured. They come from connecting the dots between what could be and what is.

Photo credit: Flickr user Kev Lewis

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author