Knowing nothing about your client's business could be an advantage

In his book Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein describes how true insights are transformational. They change how we understand, act, see and feel. As insight professionals how can we maximise our chances of producing insights that really make a difference?

Perhaps Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (best known for writing Freakonomics) have the answer in their most recent book Think Like A Freak. They encourage readers to think like a child when approaching a problem, to be “relentlessly curious and relatively unbiased” and to not “carry around the preconceptions that often stop people from seeing things the way they are”.

When invited to help an organisation with some kind of problem, Levitt and Dubner claim they know little about how that organisation works when they first meet to discuss the issue. But their biggest successes often come from ideas that arise in those first few hours: “when starting from ignorance, we asked a question an insider would never deign to ask”. Coming at problems from a fresh, naive perspective allows Levitt and Dubner to view them in different ways to “insiders”, generating new insights and solutions.

The reality for insight professionals is typically different. Clients, understandably, largely want and expect the agencies they work with to know about their business, the environment within which it operates and the constraints they work under.

But does this constrain the generation of insights? By seeking out and working with agencies that have a deep understanding of their business are clients in danger of just employing agencies who think like them? Are they missing out on getting a view from a different perspective, a view more likely to result in the organisation thinking and, ultimately, acting differently?

Should clients think differently about the suppliers they use? Should they be less conservative and purposely seek out agencies that know relatively little about their business but have the ability to think differently?

And should agencies be braver in marketing themselves on their ability to think from a fresh perspective and generate truly transformational insights irrespective of the organisations they work with? Should they be structured in traditional industry silos or should we be producing more generalists who can apply their thinking to a wide range of problems? It’s probably worth thinking about.


Gary Klein: Seeing What Others Don't (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2013)

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter About Almost Everything (Penguin, 2014)

1 comment on “Knowing nothing about your client's business could be an advantage

  1. About a year ago, our youngest was going through the phase of asking “Why?” about everything. Maybe he had it right. The problem is that it quickly became very annoying for everyone else…

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