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What should we do with waste insights?

What should we do with waste insights?

My wife trained as a nurse.

Before we had kids and left London she worked on the oncology/haematology ward at The Royal London Hospital, where the care provided to patients and families was as much emotional as it was clinical.

This stood her in good stead when, as part of balancing work and family life, she took up occupational health nursing after the birth of our first child.

She worked for an engineering firm that fabricated oil rig legs and other big bits of “expro” kit.

Ostensibly her role was 100% clinical – eye tests, hearing tests, dermatology, vaccinations, pre-employment medicals.

In practice she quickly established a reputation for trustworthiness, and soon found that at least 50% of her time was spent on psychological well-being.

Hard-bitten welders from the factory floor would take the opportunity afforded by a routine medical to offload marital, financial, and other miscellaneous stress-related issues to a sympathetic ear.

To the credit of the company, they recognised the added value associated with this extra care, which was well beyond the scope of my wife’s job description.

Improved emotional health would increase productivity and reduce sick days.

So they paid for Rachel to be properly trained as a counsellor.

Ripple dissolve to digitally enabled comms planning in 2011.

Done well, digitally enabled comms planning is about elegantly reconciling the commercial objectives of clients with the goals, motivations, aspirations of the people with whom said clients want to do business.

Done well therefore, digitally enabled comms planning involves talking to people to better understand said objectives, goals, motivations and aspirations.

The scope of this talking is defined by the project and the anticipated nature of the final outputs.

The focus, ostensibly, is on learning that can be directly applied to the project in hand.

Just as the focus for my wife was on clinical care.

But the thing with people, as my wife found out, is that they always talk about more than the ostensible questions at hand.

This is particularly the case when you talk to internal stakeholders. People within the client organisation with a vested interest in the outcome of the project, but who are not directly involved with its briefing or its budget.

Ask them about business goals as they relate to the project and they’ll give you the low-down on internal politics.

Ask them about technology and you find yourself lancing an angry boil of cultural resentment.

Ask them about internal lines of communication as they relate to the project and you’ll get a damning indictment of processes, usually accompanied by a series of specific, actionable ideas for how efficiency could be significantly improved.

It’s all off brief but it’s really good stuff.

It’s stuff that, if sorted, would have at least as much of a positive impact on the client’s business as the actual task at hand.

If I were the client CEO I’d pay good money for these insights. It’s the kind of raw, people-based data that CEO’s tend to get “protected from” by their direct reports.

But we weren’t hired as management consultants.

We weren’t given a management consultancy budget.

And we weren’t briefed by someone in a position to buy management consultancy.

Our added value solutions might actually represent a problem to the person or team that briefed us.

They’re not in a financial position to buy this kind of consultancy. And they’d  expect us to know this. Pitching for additional money for a by-product that wasn’t asked for is likely to be embarrassing.

And they’re not in a position culturally to sell this consultancy on, even if they do recognise its value.

Given the political nature of the insights it would mean going out on a limb. And not everyone is comfortable with this idea.

Indeed, the more valuable the cultural insights the less likely they are to be valued.

A culture that represses this kind of input from its staff, such that they spill the beans to a neutral outsider, is hardly likely to welcome the idea of having its deficiencies laid bare in this way.

Messengers may well be shot.

And so, by and large, valuable insights go to waste.

I don’t have an answer to this conundrum.

Hence the question.

What should we do with waste insights?






  1. Very interesting Phil and, unfortunately, pretty familiar. I work with quite a few family businesses and believe you me this ratchets up the challenge another notch. Anybody who’s seen ‘Gerry Robinson; Blood on the Carpet’ will get the picture.
    My only suggestion is to recycle all this waste into a collection of commercial culture experiences, wrap them in a snazzy cover (we do judge them by their covers) and market yourself as the next Malcolm Gladwell or Sherry Turkle. Trouble is it would probably only be other planners or even worse, management consultants, that would buy it.
    BTW, my wife trained as a nurse, still is a nurse, works about 40% unpaid overtime a week and has now been told she should be making ‘Time to Care.’ Not much insight required to figure how this has gone down.

    1. phil

      Great to hear from you Andrew and thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s always appreciated. I suspect that that the real answer (simple but not easy) is to get into a position where we are briefed by the CEO in the first place with the added value stuff as the primary objective for once. Then charge management consultant rates for it. In which case, in Animal Farm style, we would become indistinguishable from that which we wish not to be.

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