I heard an inspiring story yesterday about a musician who despite years of practice and performance started to get worse, not better. Quite dramatically so. He found that more and more his efforts were masking underlying weaknesses and tensions that were building up just out of sight. One day he couldn’t play properly at all.
Confronted by this, many told him he was “burnt out” and should pack it in and do something else. But refusing to take this negative approach instead he set out on a journey of exploration, investigating all kinds of paths to find out what the problem’s cause was, everything from Tai Chi to tightrope walking and juggling. To cut a long story short, by taking a step away from the issue to create an entirely new way of thinking and acting, over time he ended up being a far better player. A player he never knew he could be.
I felt there is a learning here for all of us. Indeed, more than one! But the first thing I took away from this is that sometimes to get a better outcome (performance) we need to look a back down the causal chain. We need to work out what the not always visible building blocks of a great outcome are. To be prosaic about it, in our work of market research we tend to focus a lot on the end presentation (“let’s make a great deck”). But actually, if we don’ t have the right inputs (data/sources) and don’t fully understand them, how are we ever going to convince the end recipient of our ideas or uncover the significant opportunity? Isn’t that more important than fancy charts?
And a final question – do we keep on looking at the same data and hope those new insights or step change ideas will emerge just by doing more work on it?