Safety of Insight

Safety of Insight is an increasingly important issue in the world of information explosion, and information overload.

Increasing ease of access to richer and more diverse information sources is mirroring a rise in questionable and spurious conclusions being arrived at. Now more than ever we need to ensure we are synthesising and interpreting information at our disposal correctly, and that we have accurate insight informing the decisions and actions we take.

The Paradox of Choice

The shift from data generation to data curation

The pace of change ushered in from rapid digitalisation and accelerated globalisation has catapulted us all from a world of restricted options to one of endless opportunity and choices. The volume of, and ease of access to information is one of the areas of modern life at the forefront of this accelerated proliferation in choice. This transition from Hobsons Choice to a Superabundance of Choice has brought many benefits, but also introduces complexities and new pitfalls which will trip us up if not carefully navigated.

A symptom of this superabundance of information is tied up in recent attention around alternative facts and the post truth society. This is pop culture rhetoric for an underlying difficulty we have with trying to disseminate and make sense of an increasing avalanche of information. We’ve never had so much data, information, and points of view so readily and easily available. This is a seductive proposition, in that more choice and greater availability of information to draw upon promises to deliver ever superior insight and outcomes, at an increasingly faster pace, and with an almost immediate impact.

However, the sheer volume of information and its increasingly ample availability is often impossible to synthesise quickly or easily. There are also many conflicting perspectives, contradictions and “alternative facts” which need to be reconciled to arrive at what is an accurate and true understanding of a topic. We are moving from an era of having to spend time generating information to an era of having to spend time disseminating and organising information into a coherent and accurate narrative. The skills of curation and navigation through information are increasingly becoming more valuable than the ability to generate, capture and codify information.

Safety of Insight increasingly requires Contextual Intelligence (CIQ)

In marketing circles and ever widening spheres of influence, there has been a steadily loudening discussion and necessary debate around brand safety and personal data safety. With the difficulties presented in navigating the exponentially increasing information available to us, there is also a need to add safety of insight as a topic for debate and deliberation. From the daily routine, to the truly strategic, individuals, teams, businesses, industries and beyond are making decision based on what is perceived to be insight and fact. The empowering sense of confidence which accompanies decision making based on fact and penetrating insight is intoxicating. However, as an industry we are not practicing mindfulness in how we are selecting and interpreting information to arrive at conclusions. We are all too often making decisions based on incomplete, inappropriate or misinterpreted information. We are too quick to accept information as fact and are not taking time to consider its true meaning. We are not stopping to check the accuracy or safety of insight which we believe we have uncovered.

More often than not the speed at which we are all under pressure to make decisions and deliver results does not afford us sufficient time, or more importantly mental bandwidth, to correctly assesses and critically evaluate information and data which is easily available and presented to us as fact. The virtues and benefits of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Intelligence (EIQ) are well documented in successful individuals and organisations, but in the emerging landscape Contextual Intelligence (CIQ) is an often under-appreciated critical skillset which needs to be added to the list. Having Contextual Intelligence means that an individual can successfully assess the frame of the information available to them and the frame of the decision they are seeking to make. More often than not, these two frames are not perfectly aligned. Being able to assess and account for where gaps and alignment exist are key to identification of true, accurate and safe insight to ultimately inform better decisions and outcomes.

Checklist for Enhancing Contextual Intelligence

Three key specific areas which should be assessed to enhance Contextual Intelligence and delvier safe insight in any given circumstance are:

1. Data Integrity

  • Primary Purpose: For what primary purpose has this information been collected/generated for? What information is specifically available, what does it really tell us, and how suitable is this for your task or decision? 
  • Timing: when and over what timeframe was the information captured or generated. Has much time passed since the data was generated, does this matter and has the passage of time impacted the reliability and accuracy of the information? Also, when the information was captured where there specific external influences shaping what was captured (e.g. higher ice cream sales over the summer).
  • Completeness: How complete or not is the information, what gaps exist and are these substantive to the point where it undermines what the data tells us.

2. Sample Suitability

  • The addressable audience: What is the total universe or addressable audience that the information covers? Does the information cover a particular community of people or is it wide ranging capturing a broad and diverse population? Importantly, how aligned is this universe to the one you are interested in?
  • Representativeness: How well does the data give a voice to all parts of the universe it purports to represent? Do all parts of the community have a voice and have they all proportionately contributed to the data?
  • Robustness: What is the overall volume of data available, and is this significantly robust to give an acceptable level of confidence that the learnings are reflective of the total population universe. 

3. Source Credibility

  • Expertise: does the person or organisation who has generated or provided the information have the skills and ability to accurately generate, curate and disseminate information in an accurate and meaningful way.
  • Trust: does the person or organisation who has provided the information have an agenda. If so, is their agenda aligned or not to your objectives, and is there a distortion of data or meaning based on any agenda?

These are basic principles of assessing information, principals any good journalist, researcher, scientist, and increasingly any good marketer will be proficient in. We need to be less passive and accepting of any or all information as truth and fact. More specifically we need to acknowledge that in the malaise and confusion of multiple data points and information sources that it can be tempting to accept as irrefutable proof any data point which fits our own bias or pre-determined narrative and dismiss information which conflicts. We need to have the humility and objectivity to interpret information for what it is telling us and not what we would like it to tell us.

We need to adopt a more active role in critically assessing the range of information at our disposable. With the superabundance of choice and availability of data comes an increasing responsibility for us to actively and purposefully assess the quality and level of suitability of any information available to us for the tasks or decisions we face. To do this, we must increase our contextual intelligence in line with volume and ubiquitous availability of information in order to uncover safe insight and provide robust and impactful direction for decision makers, be they marketing professionals, brands, businesses, policy makers, governments or others.

Safety of insight requires information architects who can design, arrange and synthetise information sources, and also information navigators who can guide people through the jungle of information in a meaningful and contextually relevant way. Only when these skills (information architecture and navigation) are applied can we ensure that the correct interpretation and conclusions are being extracted and that insight upon which we are shaping our thinking and decision making is indeed safe.

Beckett, prescient as always, summed up the challenge we face around contextual intelligence and safety of insight with grace and brevity way back in 1961:

"To find a form that
accommodates the mess
is the task of the artist now"

Beckett, 1961

Increasingly in today’s commercial landscape we need to be akin to museum curators for information to extract true and safe insight. We need to be capable of arranging disparate information sources (hard and soft) into a meaningful flow and narrative, to ensure the best and most impactful decisions are made and actions taken.