Organize insights: how to identify the most important pieces of information
If you research your subject properly, you will probably gain a whole lot of insights. Gathering many new insights is wonderful, but it can also cause you to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Which insights are important and which ones require action? In this article, I will explain how you can organize insights so that you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
Take every insight seriously
It’s important not to be too quick to dismiss ‘unimportant’ insights. Force yourself to write down every insight, preferably on sticky notes, even if an insight does not seem very important at first. By writing everything down and hanging it on the wall you will start to see connections. And once you see the connections, ‘small’ and ‘insignificant’ insights sometimes turn out to be quite valuable after all.
Overview through clustering
Just like you can cluster ideas, you can also cluster insights. If you group all your insights, you will start to see connections soon enough. Clustering can be done at the office, but just as easily online. At the office, you need sticky notes and sharpies. Digitally you can use tools like Miro. This is a kind of digital whiteboard, where you can drag and drop virtual post-it notes.
You can cluster your insights in four simple steps:
- Write everything down
As I mentioned earlier, it is important that you don’t dismiss ‘unimportant’ insights too quickly. Make sure you write down all insights first before you make any connections or draw any conclusions at all.
- Use the wall
Once you have written down all your insights on sticky notes, it’s time to put the first post-it on the wall. Look at all your insights and hang any that are related to the one already on the wall directly below it. Grab another post-it from the remaining pile and repeat this process until there are no more insights on the table. If all goes well, you now have 3 to 10 ‘clusters’ of insights hanging on the wall.
Once you’ve clustered all the insights, it’s time to prioritize them. For each cluster, ask yourself how important this group of insights is to solving your problem. It is likely that large clusters will be more important than a small cluster with two measly post-its. After all, large clusters indicate that an insight has come back in multiple forms during your research.
As a final step, you describe each cluster of insights. Name the cluster and add a short description, describing the larger insight. This helps you flesh out the important insights.
A real-life example
At the beginning of this year, we began a project around the topic of endometriosis. Endometriosis is a chronic disease that affects approximately 1 in 10 women. The condition is surprisingly unknown, both to women and to general practitioners. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that is normally found in the uterus, grows elsewhere in the body. This causes a variety of symptoms and can have a major impact on the quality of life of the affected woman. During my desk research, I found that it takes 7 to 8 years on average for endometriosis to be diagnosed. Years in which the growth of the tissue could have been inhibited and the pain could have been controlled. Our goal was to shorten this diagnosis time. I decided to focus on women of reproductive age.
While clustering my insights, I discovered that I had overlooked an important insight. My interviews with endometriosis patients revealed that on average, the first endometriosis symptoms start when the woman is 14.5 years old. All respondents thought at the onset of endometriosis symptoms, that these symptoms were normal and basically an unfortunate part of being a woman. My research further showed that the first endometriosis complaints often start within 2 years after the first menstruation. Based on this, we decided to narrow our scope and focus on young women aged 12 to 16.
Organizing insights led me to the revelation that it’s (really) young women we need to focus on. It is important for young women with endometriosis-related symptoms to understand that these symptoms are not normal. Young women with symptoms are often told by their mother or a family doctor: “Pain is part of the menstrual cycle.” As a result, many young girls believe severe pain and having to call in sick regularly are things they have to learn to live with.
With the new focus, we adjusted our design question and began working on a solution that helps young women identify unusual menstrual symptoms. After all, if girls recognize endometriosis symptoms early, diagnosis time can be greatly reduced.
If you want to get an overview of a large number of insights, it’s important not to judge the different insights you have found too quickly. Write down all insights, large and small, and hang them on the wall. Group the insights into themes and write the overarching insight above each cluster. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and create a clear overview where all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Organize the insights so you have an overview that tells you what is truly important.
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