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Uncovering the Why Behind the Buy; The Art of Sensemaking

mad scientistNever send a statistician to do an anthropologist’s job.

Big Business is learning that all the big data at their fingertips still can’t uncover the essence of WHY people will buy and buy again. Turns out, you have to talk to and observe people, in order to gain that magic insight.

An article in the fall 2017 edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR.org) by Christian Maadsberg and Mikkel B. Rasmussen, titled An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar…, talks about how organizations like Lego re-discovered their core business by doing something truly radical….really getting to know their customer. They engaged in a discovery process called Sensemaking.

Sensemaking; is the art of merging the hard and soft sciences to dig deeper into what motivates human behavior. It is the study of how people experience life. Smart companies use this information to inform strategy, product development and corporate culture.

The article outlines the 5 Steps to Sensemaking:

  1. Reframe the Problem; Stop labeling it a Problem and start thinking of it as a Phenomenon to be studied. Switch your perspective from Inside Out (how the business perceives the problem) to Outside In (Understanding how your customer ACTUALLY interfaces with your product or service.)
  2. Collect the Data; Ah, but here’s the magic formula – you must approach the data collection process without a pre-conceived hypothesis. Enter the process with zero assumptions about what you might find. The goal here is raw, personal, real-time data.
  3. Look for Patterns; Now Peel the Onion, go beyond the outer layer of observable behavior and start to analyze the data for patterns and themes, to unearth the underlying causes behind customer behavior. The real WHY.
  4. Create Key Insights; Look for gaps between your assumptions and your customer’s actual behavior. Ask questions like “What are we missing? “How can we look at this differently? And What if?”
  5. Build the Business Impact; Now, translate insight into initiative. Create an innovative strategy to bring to market the solutions for your customer’s newly uncovered needs and desires.

I am personally very excited to see a high-touch approach like Sensemaking being used by business as an avenue for understanding human behavior. 

I have always studied and observed human behavior, my own and others. As a comedian and humorist for over 30 years, my self-appointed job-description has always been; “To keep an eye on humanity and report back.”

I think of myself as a social anthropologist with a punchline…using humor to help spotlight the funny in the foibles of human behavior and inspiring positive change.

Comedians ask the same questions as all great innovators: “What if? What’s missing? Why do we do this? Is there a better way?” You could say, that we use humor to achieve sense-making.

And now, a parting piece of wisdom from one of the all-time, great social scientists, Star Treks’ Dr. Spock:

Logic is only the beginning of wisdom.”

For more information on Sensemaking go to HBR.org or pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review; The Leader’s Guide to Problem-Solving at your newsstand.

Karyn Ruth White is a Success Humorist, Social Anthropologist, Comedian, Author and Keynote Speaker.   Visit her at www.karynruth.com, info@karynruth.com