Pulling Wisdom from Abundant Data Part I: Interview with Greg Heist


A Q&A with Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer, Gongos, Inc. by Braden Kelley, Co-Founder, Innovation Excellence

Braden: This is Braden Kelley, Co-Founder of InnovationExcellence.com. I’m here today with Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer at Gongos, a decision intelligence company. Greg, for those out there who may not be completely familiar with Gongos, why don’t you tell our audience a bit about what the company does?

Greg: Gongos is a decision intelligence company, and what that means is that we help our clients develop the capacity to make great consumer-minded decisions. We’ve been in business for 24 years, and over the past several years, we’ve recognized a need for clients to change the way they think about making decisions, especially when it comes to understanding consumers, and in many cases, even themselves.

That pointed us towards this idea of trying to understand and create a more holistic view of consumers, particularly as data becomes more abundant. It’s no longer solely about asking primary research questions. It’s ultimately about helping organizations develop a competency in leveraging the data and knowledge the organization already possesses to tackle business challenges, both large and small.

Braden: So it’s really all about seeking existing data sources and mining new data sources and helping people understand what’s actionable within that?

Greg: Absolutely. That’s a very good way of summarizing it.

Here’s what Decision Intelligence Looks Like in Practice

Here’s the narrative behind it. Clients are struggling to deal with the wealth of information at their disposal: enterprise data, third-party data, social data—you name it. So in 2013, we launched a practice called O2 Integrated, assembling a group of data scientists to work with clients’ marketing and analytics groups to help them extract value from the data they already have. They’re comfortable digging into any kind of data, and they’re not wedded to any specific platform or tool.

By the same token, insights groups are just as important – maybe more so. They just need to find a symbiotic relationship with the data folks. The what and why of data – and the teams who discover and analyze it – need to co-exist. We feel like there is a clear opportunity for us to help clients make that transition.

But what organizations do with the results of all this work is where the fun comes in. For years, reports have been created for a specific group. That group often takes the information and learns from it. It then goes onto a shared drive or a shelf someplace, figuratively speaking, and it gets kind of lost. The challenge becomes “how can you bring it to life, so that it can become part of the lifeblood – or collective wisdom – of the organization?” For us, Arti|fact is our answer to that question. This group includes insight curators and designers who are trained to make this information truly consumable, immersive, and memorable.

At the end of the day, Decision Intelligence is about creating a different kind of paradigm – and relationship – between corporations and their customers. We help our clients build that competency.

How Does Decision Intelligence Differ from Traditional Marketing?

Braden: Greg, how would you say that differs from traditional market research?

Greg: If you think about traditional marketing, a lot of it has been centered around:

This worldview reflects a one-dimensional perspective. It says that humans exist to “consume” and corporations seek to extract as much as they can from them.

We believe that Decision Intelligence is rooted in seeing consumers as humans. There’s a need for corporations to make more empathic decisions on behalf of the people who buy their products and services—decisions that reflect a belief that what’s good for humans is ultimately good for the corporation. Helping organizations make this fundamental shift in their thinking is an important component of this philosophy.

How Do You Define Innovation in this Context?

Braden: Great. So let’s ask you one of our favorite questions at Innovation Excellence, which is what does innovation mean to you? How would you define innovation?

Greg: I’m most drawn to a simple definition: innovation is an idea that’s brought to life to create a new kind of value for the people who are ultimately going to benefit from it.

I also like to think of innovation as having the dimension of creating trouble. It’s kind of a troublemaking occupation in a sense, in that the more ideas and innovation stretch a market or a mindset, the more trouble that they create.

If you think about radical innovation on an external level, it creates tremendous trouble for competitors. It forces them to play on a different field and devise their counter move. Internally, I think there’s a troublemaking component as well. There’s an art to “creating” trouble while still “selling” the idea to the organization, getting buy off, and then operationalizing it.

Einstein summed it up well, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Innovation is ultimately about creating value from the seemingly absurd.

Braden: Great. Does that make you the chief troublemaker, Greg?

Greg: Given the stares I get at times when mentioning some ideas, I think the answer is yes. I really like that part of my role, though. One of the things I love about innovation as a discipline is the idea of seeing things differently, and then helping others come to understand why that different way of viewing the world has tremendous potential value to the organization and our clients.

What is the role of insights in innovation?

Braden: Let’s explore the connection between innovation and insights. So I notice that your organization talks about decision intelligence, but also talks about the importance of insights and some of your materials.

Greg: In some ways, the word insight is an overused term. For us, a true insight is something that becomes apparent, or learned, and has the potential to turn how people look at a particular situation on its head.
If we suddenly uncover something that radically changes how an organization needs to think about a product or a way of communicating, to me that’s an insight because it has that same sort of troublemaking aspect to it. Often times, clients almost expect research or insights to confirm hunches they already have, and that’s important and valid. But I think what’s really powerful is when a switch in perception occurs which triggers true innovation. To the degree to which we can facilitate that, we succeed.

Braden: Yeah, I think it’s good, the meeting of what’s powerful and most desired and uncovering something that [inaudible] wasn’t possible before that now you find a way to make it possible or you identify a way to satisfy our needs [inaudible].

Greg: Yes, and that speaks to one of the other knocks against traditional market research. Typically, people struggle with articulating something they don’t have direct experience with. But, I think the power to identify what’s latent is a really powerful thing.

And if insights are ultimately about gaining deeper layers of understanding, in contrast foresight helps organizations see what’s ahead—sometimes through volatility and uncertainty – and set a course for the future. When you begin layering in things like how trends intersect or how disruption changes the game, you begin seeing the future very differently. Gaining that kind of foresight is increasingly critical for corporations who want to thrive in the shifting currents of the 21st century.

As published in Innovation Excellence.