on Thought leadership

Four paradoxes of human insight

When creating a positive impact on people’s everyday life, it helps a lot to actually know the people and the context of their day-to-day lives. This is why all of our work starts with humans in mind. The people as citizens, customers, end-users, co-creators.

Human insight can be tricky. Like many complex things, it is inherently paradoxical. Most of its main characteristics appear contradictory.

By thinking through paradoxes, we can reveal the multifaceted character of human insight, which ultimately helps us use it in a way that truly adds value and creates meaning.


1. It is not about the method, but choose the right method

The best way to bore a client is to talk excessively about a method, or even worse, a theory. But methods and theories do matter.

A carefully chosen method guarantees that the collected information can be refined into knowledge and wisdom. A hammer and a screwdriver do not solve the same problem. A toolbox should not lack a wrench when there is a bolt to tighten.

This is the basic principle of our insight methodology. We have a suitable tool for every situation, from deep qualitative immersion to applied neuroscience and live monitoring of online behavior.

2. Size does matter, but an individual is never an island

Some people consider only gigantic quantitative samples trustworthy. Some prefer spending weeks doing ethnographic fieldwork in a tiny community or engaging a close group of influencers. We want to go both ways.

The more qualitative the setup, the more you can keep asking. Why is that so? Do you really think so? What factors influenced that decision? The more quantitative you go, the better you know if other people really think and behave in the supposed way.

Even if we had a sample of N=1, the particular person represents a larger entity. Her or his family, community, society. Our thinking and behavior are socially constructed, which makes even individual responses valuable.

3. The human respondent is usually right, but that is not enough

During a research process, one encounters a lot of situations in which a respondent says something very interesting. This does not yet qualify as an actual insight. It is an observation.

Going from observations to insights is the most valuable part of the process, which is actually both human-centric and business-centric. It is a translation process.

We uncover the meaning of the insights in the client’s context and operational environment. When identifying a valuable insight, it is useful to go back to the key questions and challenges at hand and place the insight in a broader strategic framework. In the end, it is about making the insights actionable. What should be done? What can be done?

4. Fly high with your feet on the ground

The best analysis is always layered and multidimensional, and no advanced analysis comes naturally, but rather as a result of thousands of hours of practice.

In foresight, it is useful to look at megatrends on a global level, but also at micro-trends like small communities pursuing leading-edge behaviour and emerging clusters of technological weak signals. The levels are not only macro and micro but also mega and nano.

When examining the different layers, it becomes obvious that the levels influence each other. By understanding the dynamics and the interaction of the layers, we can unlock solid insights on the shape of things to come.

Conclusion: Escape the bubble by being insightful

The legendary American futurist Jim Dator has said that any useful idea about the future should appear ridiculous. That is because the early signs of change do not fit our current mental models.

The same applies to human insight, which is more focused on the present day. We are intuitively aware of what’s relevant in our own social context, culture, and lifestyle. That is just very limited. We have to look outside our bubble.

By understanding people – citizens, customers, end-users, co-creators – in different contexts, we can grasp what’s meaningful and valuable to them, even if it seems surprising or weird at first. Ultimately, this allows us to offer something that feels right and creates a positive impact.