Insights Are Better Than Ideas

DDB Worldwide recently published a “yellow paper” titled Insights that Incite (hat tip:PSFK). The gist of their “brochure” is that it is hard to break through all the clutter and you need to find something unique and unexpected to change how people think about your brand—pretty much what you would expect from an ad agency.

This reference though reminded me how much I love the word insight, something I owe to former BBDO chairman and agency man Phil Dusenberry. He had the best definition I have ever heard for insights in his 2005 book Then We Set His Hair on Fire:

In this book, I have stressed the difference between ideas and insights. Ideas are a dime a dozen; anyone can have them. They can be good or bad ideas, saving your hide in some cases, wasting your time in others. The best thing about a good idea is that it forces you to act. Insight is rarer, and infinitely more precious. A strong insight can fuel a thousand ideas, a thousand reasons to act and make something happen. That, more than anything, should be your reason to fight and persevere for your own insight moment. When you are armed with a powerful insight, the ideas never stop flowing.

Think about the really great business concepts. Porter’s Five Forces Model is an insight. Each one of Covey’s Seven Habits is an insight. Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, the title of one of the definitive books on GE, is one of many insights Jack Welch used when he was CEO of the company.

If ideas are intellectual lightbulbs, insights are 10,000 watt searchlights. Insights illuminate a wide range of paths to take. They provide the “why” which lead you to a plenitude of “hows.”


Side note: Then We Set His Hair On Fire didn’t sell well in hardcover and was released in paperback under the title One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas. Even with the better title, the book has some identity problems. At times, it is a biography and at other times a how-to with case studies. If you can look past those conflicts, you’ll hear the inside stories of brands built like Pepsi, Visa, and FedEx. Dusenberry’s book is one of my favorites of the last five years.

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