It’s that time of the year again… outlooks, what-to-watch-out-fors and forecasts about 2017 are spamming our inboxes. As we embark on the fortune-telling trek it might be worth pausing for a moment to look back.
There is no doubt that 2016 has been an unpredictable year, especially when it comes to forecasting: Brexit, the US elections, the Italian referendum – pollsters, political pundits, and analysts got it all wrong. With the Dutch, French and German elections coming up in 2017, the post-mortem list is likely to grow.
2016 reinforced a precious belief: Data without context is like cooking without a recipe; you have all the ingredients but don’t know when or how to use them.
We have access to ingenious inventions and statistically advanced models designed to predict and grasp what is happening around us and yet, as we hear from clients every day, it is becoming even more difficult to figure out our increasingly complex world. We live in a strange era, where the most data-driven, statistically sophisticated campaign in American history was defeated by a candidate whose primary “scientific” tool was his twitter account.
Access to huge amounts of data is easier than ever, with analytics sales expected to top $187 billion by 2019. Yet despite all that data, we face an incredible inability to understand and predict people’s needs, hopes and frustrations. To put it another way: we have the data but we lack context; we have numbers but we lack meaning; we have technology but lack humanity.
It looks like people are so caught up in fortune telling that they forgot to understand the present. Our Chairwoman and Clinton campaign aide Diane Hessan recently wrote in the Boston Globe about the need for people to be understood and how we all need to make more of an effort to speak to instead of about each other.
Spending time and money looking only at numbers, viewing humans as mere data-points, sales targets and electorate votes is a fruitless endeavor. It’s not only about complementing big data with thick (qualitative) data, it is also about genuinely empathising with people. We need to dig deeper than the methods and correlations that data show, get into the human needs and make sense of it all.
We need to start engaging more with one another. Go beyond the quants, the stats and the quals. Hear, but also listen to what others are saying – many times they whisper and we need to find ways to cut through the noise to connect with them, to really get them.
But to do that we, as insight professionals, need to leave our personal biases behind, be genuinely open to all possibilities and be ready to be surprised. Only then will we be able to explore and approach what really matters to people.
So, how about adding ‘learning to listen’ to our new year’s resolution lists?
Roy Langmaid, the man we call when we are grappling with some of the deeper questions in our work, suggests 5 key responses you can use in your next conversation to 1) keep your mind on what the speaker is saying, and 2) show the speaker they are being truly listened to.
When the speaker has finished their thought, try:
- “I heard you say…”
Repeat a phrase used by the speaker back to them – people love to hear their own words.
- “I noticed that…”
Make a point about the way they said something, their body language, their speed, emotion.
- “I felt…(angry, glad, sad, scared etc.)…when you said…”
By sharing your feelings, you are showing you are engaged
After 1, 2 and 3, you can complement with the following to give the speaker permission to open up.
- “…it sounds as if…”
This lets the speaker confirm or deny, and then explain why
- “…I imagine that…”
This lets the speaker open up
When all have fallen off the jogging and salad wagons, knowing how to listen, without prejudice, could open up more opportunities than ever before.