Where do great consumer insights come from?

A headshot of Steve Denning

by Steve Denning

An illustration of question marks floating out of a square box.

Where, indeed.

You’d be forgiven if you thought that insight was a gift granted by the gods. After all, human history is full of dramatic “eureka!” stories, from Archimedes figuring out the theory of displacement in his bathtub, to Newton learning about gravity under the apple tree, to Ben Franklin flying his kite in a thunderstorm and “discovering” electricity.

There are a lot of “lonely genius” stories as well—tales of solitary toil, anti-social reclusiveness, windy-moor stalking. One of our most enduring cultural myths revolves around such solitary prodigies and their “lightbulb moments”: Freud, Einstein, Edison, Turing. . . the list goes on.

But that’s what it is: a myth. As it turns out, insightfulness is a lot of work—and it’s a team sport.

All of the solitary geniuses listed above actually collaborated with other people. And increasingly, it’s becoming clear to researchers and practitioners alike that the most meaningful insights do indeed come from groups of people working together, reacting to one another, and sparking each other’s curiosity.

In his influential 2010 TED Talk “Where good ideas come from,” Steven Johnson notes that the great intellectual awakening otherwise known as the European Enlightenment owes a lot to the rise of the coffee house, a place where people of many different backgrounds gathered to drink coffee, of course—but also to speak together, learn the news, and share ideas. These early cafes, each of which had its own conversational specialties depending on neighbourhood and owner (literature, politics, gossip, science, dissent, etc.), created the perfect matrix for cultivating ground-breaking ideas: a community of people bound together by a common interest.

Read Next: 6 digital trends shaping consumer insights

Enlightenment is a pretty good synonym for insight, and today’s most innovative and inclusive brands are basically taking a page out of those 17th-century coffeehouse books, creating a space where people can gather to solve problems, create new possibilities, and forge new social bonds. The best of these “communities” or “collaborative communities” are places that, as Harvard University’s Linda Hill points out, are filled with people “able and willing to do the hard work of innovative problem solving,” and are places where “minority and disruptive voices” are able not only to speak up—but also to be heard.

In summary, creating a purpose-built brand community will speed up the collision of disparate ideas, the synthesis of knowledge and the creation of insights.


“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask.”

Albert Einstein

The latest research indicates that we might have to question how we brainstorm for ideas and insights. Some experts swear that the best approach is to have participants ask questions. Just questions—no introduction or clarification or set up. Not only does the “question burst” approach help quell anxiety and encourage the introverts to come out of hiding, it also expands the problem space and encourages more creativity.

Here’s how it works:

  • Establish the challenge you’re trying to answer.
  • Only questions are allowed—no set up, no explanation, just the question.
  • Set a time limit—4 minutes seems to be optimal.
  • Include people who don’t know anything about the problem.
  • Follow up on any questions that help you reframe your problem. Anything there that makes you think differently? Challenges traditional beliefs? See with fresh eyes? Chase it down.

For More, Check Out: 7 community management tips for better consumer insights

The hallmark of the most remarkable communities—those in which members genuinely support, challenge and amplify one another—is the conversation that naturally springs up among people who are united in a common interest. Rather than merely a call and response between company and community, there is also conversation and collaboration between members.

Collective creativity flourishes under such conditions, leading to unpredictable outcomes and insights that can produce breakthroughs. Smart community managers make sure that there are informal social spaces where people can gather to share whatever it is that they have to offer, free of guided topics or prompts for discussion.

So this is where insights come from: not from some kind of born-with-it genius, not from a lightning strike of inspiration. From groups of focused and engaged participants.

So how do you encourage such communities to grow and flourish?

By giving your customers what the want and an experience they crave!

The benefits of community to you are obvious: by gathering a group of engaged brand stakeholders, including customers, you increase the odds that creative sparks will fly and that you will together discover meaningful insights that will help you make meaningful changes to your business. At Chaordix, we refer to this type of space as a co-creative community.

But why do your biggest fans want to participate in a co-creative community? What actually causes them to engage in the long term, to essentially donate their time and their imagination to your cause?

There are lots of reasons, actually, and knowing them will help you attract, nurture and maintain your enthusiastic brand community.

Here are just a few drawn from the Chaordix ebook The Marketers Guide to Customer Participation available here:

  • Feeling a sense of community working with like-minded people
  • Validation from a brand that recognizes their super-fan status and respects input
  • Creative satisfaction of seeing a personal idea come to life in public
  • Material satisfaction from improving a beloved product
  • Professional status and credit for co-creating a winning idea
  • Community status from appearing in a promotional campaign about the new product

Because you need continuous, engaged, long-term customer involvement, it’s important that you realize the following crucial fact: Your co-creative community exists to serve your members—not your business.

Some companies behave as though the best reason for nurturing a community is to mine the attitudes of the people there, treating the gathering like one big convenient data pool “that helps a brand get closer to its customers by getting into their daily lives continuously.”

Related Read: 6 online community management tips for your business

The risks to such a strategy are obvious: participants could easily start feeling like the benefits are all flowing in one direction and that they’re giving a lot more than they’re getting. Not to mention the fact that no one likes the feeling that they’re being watched—even by a brand they’re fond of.

These so-called “insights communities”, as they turn out, aren’t really “communities” at all.

Your prime directive is to make sure that you give your co-creative community what they need. It’s not just the right way to treat your loyal brand advocates, it’s also the best way to make sure that they’ll help you get what you need: their time, effort, and creativity. Make sure there are many different ways your community can get its dopamine rush: surveys for the survey fans (they’re out there!), badges for the collectors, prizes, status, recognition, belonging.

At Chaordix, we use a meticulously designed gamification system that automatically recognizes and rewards member participation with points that increase their community level, earn them badges, and give them a chance to be featured for a great idea, outstanding support or valuable feedback.

Our platform also encourages social sharing of community content to a member's social channels. We work hard at answering our members’ emotional needs, and in the process have created some of the most vibrant and productive brand communities you’ll find anywhere.

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