Shhh! (The Secret Ingredient to Customer Insights)


Share on LinkedIn

Insights.  That mystical, magical, overused buzzword that clients demand and suppliers promise. Every time I hear a cry for insights, I think of the movie “Monty Python’s Holy Grail” when The Knights Who Say Ni give Sir Lancelot and his boys an ultimatum: “You must return here with a shrubbery or else… you will never pass through this wood alive!” 

In our world of Market Research, CX, or CEM, not a day goes by when you don’t hear someone say, “you must return here with an INSIGHT or else…you will never pass through these corporate halls alive!” Just as in the movie, they add: “one that looks nice, and not too expensive.”

Those knights went on a dangerous journey in search of shrubbery, just as researchers and CX professionals search for insight. In 25 years of participating in this journey, I’ve witnessed great success and dismal failure. I’ve written and spoken about four ingredients of insight that make success more likely, including understanding context, good design, the art of discovery, and communicating insight (feel free to ask for a paper on this).

Those ingredients involve a lot of art, not just science. The art component isn’t always taught in schools, nor does it exist as a feature in the technological solutions that aid us in our insights quest. Certainly the latest technology is critical to insight generation and that will only grow with big data analytics, predictive analysis, SaaS reporting, and data visualization software, and 24/7 always-on-data-at-my-fingertips mobile applications.

But, there is one ingredient that time and time again proves its worth in generating insight. It’s not technological. It’s potent, underrated, and rare. It’s so secret that I hate to divulge it in fear that I give up my competitive edge. I also hate to divulge it because it’s so old school that I’m afraid of being banished forever to the dinosaur graveyard.  Yet all the newest technology may be useless without the fuel of this secret ingredient.

Curious about what it is? That’s exactly what it is: Curiosity. (Laugh if you want, but at your own peril.) It’s not sexy. It’s not shiny. I haven’t discovered an app for it. But it’s killer.

Insights rarely just happen. Rarely just pop up on the surface. They lie deep underneath. Deep digging is hard work, and the fuel that drives that work is curiosity. Insights often begin in the nymph stage as hidden gaps, things that don’t look right, or connections that aren’t obvious. Curiosity is often the lens that brings those into focus. Curious people can’t help themselves from asking “why,” “how,” and “when?” When sitting in traffic they’re often thinking, “that just doesn’t make sense, I wonder if…”  It’s that wonderment that triggers the transformation from a question to an insight.

Curiosity is not common. It’s hard to spot. It’s one of those know-it-when-you-see-it things. Search for it, hire it, and seed your insights team with curious people.

In your talent search, you can incorporate questions to uncover how curious a candidate is. Use questions that get at thirst for knowledge, questions about what things they have done recently to teach themselves new things. Better yet, consider using tasks that can uncover curiosity or lack thereof. I’ve seen companies use data sets or lists of findings or an executive summary as a tool to test for the inquiring mind. 

Curiosity—or lack thereof—is often revealed when you ask the candidates what questions they have of you. Have they taken the initiative to really research you? Do they know what keeps you up at night? Do they ask the questions that dive at the heart of your industry trends? Do their questions come from genuine curiosity? The worst answer I ever got to that question was “um, what do most of the people here do for lunch?” That wasn’t the kind of curiosity I wanted.

Once you hire it, you have to foster it. Allow it. Picasso once said, “all children are born artists—the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” The same could be said for curiosity. Worse, you may have enacted barriers to curiosity without even thinking about it, because you were afraid of it. We’ve all heard “curiosity kills the cat.” I once heard a researcher say, “curiosity kills the gross profit.” Indeed, too much of anything is a bad thing, but if you are in the business of discovering and delivering insights, too little curiosity could kill your business. Be careful not to discourage curiosity, and consider taking it a step further, and actually rewarding curiosity.

I’m curious:

  1. Do you agree?
  2. Do you leverage this secret ingredient on your insight teams? 
  3. Do you seek out and test for curiosity when hiring?
  4. Do you foster curiosity? Allow it? Reward it? Teach it?
  5. Can it even be taught? 

Your thoughts?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ed Stalling
Ed Stalling is Chief storyteller, aka Sr. Director of Business Management, at MaritzCX. For the past 24 years Ed has been a Research Manager discovering and delivering insights to Fortune 100 clients, retaining and growing major accounts, building business with global clients in the technology sector, improving company ability to discover and communicate insights globally, designing and delivering an extensive training program around the ingredients of insight, coaching a sales force, and aligning marketing and sales. He is passionate about advancing the art involved in insight discovery and communications, and is utterly convinced that market research and customer experience can be creative and fun.


  1. I agree that curiosity is an important trait but the information, insights, and learning derived from this curiosity is what makes it valuable. The curious person should be able to take lessons found in strange places and then apply them to the job at hand. The curious person should be able to see the similarities underneath apparent differences so that practice in a totally different industry still could be applied, perhaps with modifications, in the curious person’s situation. Curiosity for curiosity’s sake that accumulates bits of random knowledge without ever finding any use for them is not necessarily a positive trait.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here