“Insights” as revealations of hidden optionalities

Terrace. say the word 50 times.
As if you are pondering over the word. Letting your tongue linger over the r’s and letting it bid adieu to the dimming sss sound at the end with a gentle flourish. Do this over and over again.

What happens?

You begin to doubt the meaning of word. Or imagine different meanings for it. The evolving sounds of the word nudging you towards different notions and worlds.

Something similar happens in pursuit of ‘insights’. either alone or in group, after a few hours of meditating and mining for the insight, we begin to lose the shape of the very concept of insight. we might have a list of contenders by then. But when you look back, the contenders stare back at you with a question. is this really an ‘insight’?


Insights sit at the edge of epistemic boundaries.

Epistemy is the kind of word whose meaning deserts our mind as soon as our focus shifts away from it. If intellectual pursuits are scaffolds, the concept of epistemy sits perhaps high enough where clouds obscure the vision of ground reality below. Which is to say, it is one of those concepts you brush away in an encounter out of confusion or being intimidated. But try and hold onto it for a minute here. I think it would be worth your while.

Epistemology is knowledge about knowledge. how we know what we know? what are the limits of what we know? how we know what we know is true? how we believe in something and what constitutes reality?

Epistemy deals with perception, memory, cognition, reasoning… things that advertising professional deal in. In that sense, we are itinerant traders of epistemic goods; chiseling out notions, transporting it from minds to minds, fertilizing beliefs, harvesting behaviours and preferences.

When we talk about insights, we are really talking with purpose of effective inception – an ‘a ha’ moment. So within the epistemic set, insight is purposive subset. An insight that cannot trigger a response is not useful.

Secondly, insight is relative. what is insightful to me might not be insightful for you. what is insightful for me now might not be insightful for me the day after. what is insightful for me when commuting might not be when I am drowsy with sleep.
In other words, insight needs to be TG, occassion and behaviour specific. I saw an ad recently by a footwear brand talking about woman empowerment. Nothing wrong with the politics. The insight is right for the politics, but not relevant to the brand at all.

thirdly, insight is epistemic. this is to say that it is relative to the knowledge, expectations, beliefs of the person we are trying to communicate with. The reader of this blog might enjoy this epistemic discourse. But this insight about insight is not of interest, concern or vocabulary of, say a parle G biscuit consumer. It is precisely of interest to a very narrow group of people interested in advertising, media AND who are intellectually curious. The latter group might have the vocabulary, the context and the interest in what I am saying, most others won’t.

Now is a good time to ask the question – so what?
Tthe thing is, to create an ‘a ha’ moment, we need to drive the person right beyond the edge of his knowledge, his beliefs, his perspectives.

So it is not enough to know what your consumer knows, feels, believes in. We need to know what are the limits of those ideas in their mind and heart. We need a humanist perspective to expand their boundaries of tolerance, beliefs, knowledge (Which is relevant to the brand in question).


Insights and optionality

Life is essentially a journey through optionality. We move ahead in life, only by making choices (knowingly or unknowingly). We are under the illusion that time is what pushes us ahead. But that’s a fallacy. Time just moves our mortality. We stagnate and solidify into inert calcified husks if we postpone choices and doggedly ignore them. We move in life if we take chances, if we make choices.

and the journey is outwards, expanding the boudaries of what and how we know, feel, belong etc.

so every insight can essentially be framed as a choice, as an option, as an invitation to expand the boundaries of our lives. These insights sit at the boundary of our cognition. Often unsaid or invisible to the consumer, until it is made apparent by an outside agency (hopefully us).

I think this conception of insight is beautiful and MECE enough to settle all ‘what do you mean by an insight’ debate. what do you think?

summary: insight = identify epistemic boundary + an option to explore the beyond

The knowledge grid

*this post is not related to advertising.

Foucault (can’t understand him) says something interesting in this video. He talks about history of science (consequently progress of humanity’s thoughts) as discontinuous grids stacked on top of each other. which I didn’t understand until Chomsky clarified it – essentially how 19th and 20th century ‘sciences’ discredited psychology, philosophy, linguistics. and how these sciences are trying to emerge in the new century.

It reminded me of the topic of indigenous knowledge systems – tribal understanding of the flora and fauna, of astronomy and body, of history and time… or for that matter, the resurgence of ayurveda.

In today’s world of make-your-own-facts bubbles and social media, it feels as if these grids are colliding and all that would be left of it is a rubble of human scientific endeavour – a full stop to human progress.

To arrest that, myth-busting is not enough. We need to create knowledge ‘grids’ that people can subscribe to and support, to participate in and contribute.

So here’s the idea – maybe, someone’s already done it. all the better. here it is –

A global map across time and space – of sciences, of ways of thinking, of meaning making.

We need it to ensure the best perspective, thoughts do not evaporate with changing moods of the world. That they survive and grow stronger. That we acknowledge a plurality of sciences and perspectives.