Anyone who has done any sort of data collection or analysis in the business world has almost certainly been asked to produce insights. "We're looking for insightful data," is a typical statement I hear from clients on a regular basis.
But for some reason, people don't talk much about getting useful data. There's an implicit assumption that "insightful data" and "useful data" are the same thing.
They aren't, and it's important to understand why.
- "Insightful" data yields new knowledge or understanding about something. It tells you something you didn't already know.
- "Useful" data can be applied towards achieving some goal. It moves you closer to your business objective.
Data can be either "insightful" or "useful," or both, or neither. Insightfulness and usefulness are completely different things.
For example, if you discover as part of your customer research that a surprisingly high percentage of your customers are left-handed, that may be insightful but it's probably not useful (unless you're planning to market specifically to southpaws).
Or if your survey data shows that some of your customer service reps have consistently higher customer satisfaction than others, that's very useful information, but it's probably not insightful (you probably expected some reps to score higher than others).
The best data is both insightful and useful, but that's rare. Most companies have enough of an understanding of how their business works that true insights are unusual, and true insights which can be immediately applied towards a business goal are even less common.
And of course data which is neither useful nor insightful serves no purpose. Nevertheless, this sort of research is distressingly common.
When it comes down to useful data vs. insightful data, I tend to prefer usefulness over insightfulness. Data which is useful, even if it doesn't reveal any new insights, still helps advance the goals of the company. That's not to imply that insights have no value: even a useless insight can be filed away in case it becomes important in the future.
But whether you're looking for insights or usefulness, remember that they are not the same thing.