Analytics and Forecasting

Truth is Not Enough

20 Apr 2012  

When I first got to Yale, I was struck that our motto LUX ET VERITAS was an extension of Harvard’s Veritas.  I used to kid people that Yale was obviously twice as good—you got all the same Veritas, with the 100% added bonus of the Lux.  Whatever that was.

Product differentiation

Yale 2Later I came to see this as a marketing strategy on Yale’s part—pure product differentiation.  Harvard was the first colonial university in 1636, and claimed the all-time killer motto, Latin for “truth”.  Coming along in 1701, Yale had to differentiate its ‘brand’ somehow.  It did that by anchoring with the “et Veritas” part, and adding the “Lux” (light) up front — kind of a new improved ingredient for the upstart rival.

It wasn’t until years later that I gave much thought to what the words mean.  I still believe that Yale has the better motto—but for much different reasons than I did then.

Fact and insight

Years ago I heard an ‘insight about insight’ that stuck with me.  At that time, there was a big fat ‘phone book’ distributed every year with the names of several million telephone-owning New Yorkers (like every other phone district in the US.)  Some witty speaker made the point that this book contained 100% facts—but absolutely nothing in the way of insights, or enlightenment, whatsoever.  No summaries, no analysis—it was, in other words, 100% Veritas and 0% Lux.

Lux = light = insight

Fast-forward a couple of decades.  Much of what I deal with now as a consultant is getting my clients to understand that VERITAS is necessary—but not sufficient—in an intelligence product.  They must have both.  Their job as intelligence producers is not done until the LIGHTbulb goes on— until someone has an insight, an ‘aha’ moment.

And not just any someone.  It needs to be someone with power—position, authority, budget, mandate, and so on—to act on the intelligence.

That idea has become part of our model and methodology, The Knowledge Value Chain®.  At the bottom of the chain is the Veritas—the truth people.  At the top are the power people, in whose minds ‘light’ must shine before decisions are made and actions are committed to and executed.

Looking for light

This is a theme common to many organizations.  What used to be called ‘market research’ in many companies is now called ‘market insights’, or words to that effect.  It’s not just a semantic change— it’s a reflection of the fact that executives seek insights, not just information, in order to make decisions.

Research groups often struggle with this.  Typically any mandate to change comes from above.  A.G. Laffley, when he became CEO of Procter & Gamble in 2000, famously told his top executives to get out from behind their printouts and presentation decks, and talk directly with customers.  This was his way of generating more Lux amidst the mountains of Veritas.

View from the academy

There’s a branch of experimental psychology that deals with insight. There’s general agreement that the process of insight, though related to the process of ‘learning’—ingesting and absorbing information—differs from it in key ways.  Much of the research on insight has to do with identifying what those differences are.  For example, while learning is typically methodical and process-driven, insight is often sudden and unpredictable.  The implication is that insight can be driven by the disruption of a normal thinking process—shaking things up mentally, as it were.

So what?

Much of this research on insight focuses on how it applies to solving problems, and this also might provide us with a clue as to the difference between information and insight.  While much corporate research consists of information being shoveled out (‘supply push’), insight has to do more with solving problems (‘demand pull’).  I’m always amazed how easy it is to read a software manual when I need to figure out a problem—and what a drag it is to read just for its own sake.

Corporate research would do well to focus on the problems and challenges that their clients need to overcome.  Information used in solving problems clearly adds value and has ‘stickiness’, while information disseminated in a vacuum often does not.

If you’re an intelligence producer, remember to sprinkle some Lux on your Veritas before serving.  If you’re an intelligence user, demand it.

2 Responses

  1. At Binghamton University, I think our motto was LUX ET Bagels.
    Just add coffee, and the insights begin to flow.
    I don’t think Steve Jobs needed VERITAS or Bagels or customer opinion – he was all LUX.

  2. Tim Powell says:

    Hi Alan,

    Hilarious comment!

    When I got to Yale as a public high-schooler on scholarship, I was pretty intimidated. My views have changed, as I guess is clear. Not sure if I grew into it, or just got brainwashed. Probably some of both.

    I’ve just picked up the Jobs bio to see just how he got LUXy. (Sorry!) Notoriously scornful of traditional research — and with the solid successes to back up his unorthodox approach.


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