What influences understanding, insight and effective decision making?

This post was triggered by a recent experience I had on the tube train in London. At the time it surprised me but, as I had time to reflect, I realised there were parallels with why the best organisations look for rich and deep insight from the data they gather, rather than simply skimming across the surface of information for ‘headline news’.

The experience reminded me of two articles published by Harvard Business Review, one about data and decision-making, and one about the difficulties of becoming a data driven business; and a Forbes article about digging deeper into who you are selling to. (All are certainly worth a read.)

So, what was the experience and why did it make me think about the importance of understanding the holistic picture? And why do we need to uncover as many data points as possible, dig deeper into data to elicit the insight that provides a more informed understanding upon which to make decisions?

Firstly, apologies for the analogy; it may seem tenuous, but bear with me. Last week, I was on the tube back from an eye appointment. It was busy, and all seats were taken, so I was standing.  A young man stood up and offered me his seat. Although I declined, I thought it was a very kind gesture. But then the other side of my brain kicked in and I thought, “I wonder why he did that, it’s not as though I’m old!”

Well to be fair, what he saw was a man with silver hair, glasses, and someone perhaps not quite as slim as a younger man. And whilst that probably is the outward picture it’s strangely not how I see myself. Now, in no way do I want to say anything else other than it was a kind, well-meaning gesture, but what it triggered in my mind was how important it is to have as much information as possible when making business decisions.

So, what other information could have provided a more complete picture, even if it was not initially obvious or immediately available? Well, I’d say I’m actually quite fit for my age (60) and compare favourably on Strava to many 30- to 40-year-olds! I work out a lot and have extensive data points showing stats on fitness, strength, fatigue and freshness over time.

However, the surface-level data presented to the young man in question meant that his kind offer was an easy decision. I’m certainly not saying he was wrong, and I hope in a similar situation he and others would do the same thing, but in more complex situations, where important decisions need to be made, it helps to have those deeper insights.

The CX and insight world has come on leaps and bounds over the years and, with a myriad of tools available, the insight being derived is strong. However, the biggest takeaway I had from my experience is never stop digging, actively look for as many data points as possible, and validate your conclusions.

As CX and insight professionals, we need to always look beyond the ‘headline news’ and dig as deep as we can to unearth all the relevant information. We need to understand the holistic picture, before making recommendations, or decisions.

Of course, the similarities with my tube experience end here.  But, in a business context, there may be serious repercussions if we make decisions based on limited data. With time pressures, we can too easily be swayed by the headlines and fail to look beyond them. It’s therefore imperative that we dig, explore and go beyond the surface picture, because that is the only way we can derive deeper, more accurate insight, especially when making critical, strategically important business choices.

Finally, although not entirely linked, this interesting article from Gartner about data and analytics discusses how multiple data points provide a base for analysis and decision making. It reflects our own thinking about what influences understanding, insight and effective decision making. For us, insight is at its best when it follows these five key rules:

  • it takes the holistic view
  • as many data points as possible are explored
  • both internal and external perspectives are understood
  • it digs beneath the surface rather than relying on the initial picture
  • it tells the story using the data as the evidence to prove or disprove hypotheses.


You may have a different view on your top 5 things on what influences understanding, insight and effective decision making. If so, we’d love to hear them – do share them with us.

If you’d like to read more, you can download our free guide ‘Optimising the impact of your CX programme’ here.

Written by Paul Kavanagh, Managing Director

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